Emergency response contractor IEM gets ready for intense hurricane season
IEM emergency response contractor prepares for Hurricane Season.

Super typhoon over the ocean. The eye of the hurricane. View fro
While $18B has been earmarked for federal disaster relief in Florida, only about $13B has been disbursed since 2017.

While many Floridians start to stock up on emergency supplies as hurricane season is about to officially get underway Saturday, a more complex formal hurricane preparedness system is gearing up for the treacherous season that doesn’t officially come to an end until Nov. 30.

Hurricane response contractors such as IEM International deal with federal, state and local governments when tropical blasts plow through shorelines. While IEM is involved in response — including infrastructure, disaster recovery and reconstruction — they have to make sure their contracts are in line well before storms make landfall.

IEM CEO Bryan Koon said that with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projecting that there will be 17 to 25 named tropical storms or hurricanes this year in the Atlantic Ocean region, the preparation before the season starts is critical.

“The preseason forecasts are very interesting, but they don’t really change the way the state or a company like ours prepare for them,” said Koon, former Director of the Division of Emergency Management from 2011 to 2017.

Even a light hurricane season can produce only one deadly storm. But Koon acknowledged that the projected raucous Atlantic Ocean NOAA regional forecast has contractors such as his company on their toes.

“When you have that many bad hurricanes (predicted), everybody needs to be paying attention,” Koon said.

“When you have a potential storm season like the one we’re going to have, the mutual aid response gets thin. So, the longer the hurricane season goes, the stronger (storms) you have, the harder it is to muster the appropriate response. We could be looking at something like that this year.”

Koon, who lives in Tallahassee acknowledged that work on the part of response contractors prior to Hurricane Season is an area that most of the public is not aware of.

But IEM, the company based in Morrisville, North Carolina, is not relaxing before the season starts. In fact, the company’s leaders are working diligently to finalize and review contractual agreements with dozens of local and state governments that disseminate billions of dollars in federal emergency response funds if they’re struck by a tropical storm or hurricane.

“We’re laying as much groundwork as possible to ensure that stand-by contracts are in place, that mutual aid relationships are in place, (and) that preparedness messaging … is there to reduce the impact of a storm,” he said.

In these weeks leading up to and into the early hurricane season, exercises are being conducted and tests on the response plans are being reviewed.

That preparation is key. While companies such as IEM close on agreements with local and state governments, it’s still the federal government that provides most of the relief funding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has allocated $223 billion in emergency response funding. But only $114 billion of that funding has been disbursed in that time.

In Florida alone, $18 billion in federal emergency relief funding has been earmarked for the state. But only $13 billion has been disbursed in the Sunshine State for emergency response since 2017. That means emergency management contractors may have to cover some costs in the initial stages of operations.

“It’s really doing the diligence necessary to make sure that you’re as ready as you can be knowing there’s going to be a lot of variability when storms happen,” Koon said.

He added that many people not in the emergency response and management contracting industry have no idea how much advance work goes on ahead of storm season. Debris removal, reconstruction crews and associated response contractors don’t simply show up without notice when power lines fall during a storm.

“You’ve got to have that kind of stuff lined up now,” Koon said, noting it would be a dramatic domino effect if the contracts weren’t in line well before any tropical system makes landfall. “If that’s delayed, power recovery is delayed, reconstruction is delayed, school opening is delayed, business reopening is delayed and that just continues to compound and the long-term recovery is delayed.”

While contractors are lining up their accords with governments now, residents can play an important role as well to contribute to an adequate response to a hurricane. Koon advised residents to stock up on proper supplies, make sure they have products in their house that can help themselves, and make sure to have a thorough review of all insurance policies.

Drew Dixon

Drew Dixon is a journalist of 40 years who has reported in print and broadcast throughout Florida, starting in Ohio in the 1980s. He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics at three colleges, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can reach him at [email protected].


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