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St. Johns County officials meet to discuss Irma response, recovery

Officials discuss lessons learned form devastating storm

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla.

Florida House of Representatives Speaker Pro Tem Jeanette Nunez and Rep. Paul Renner hosted a news conference Friday at the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center to discuss the response to Hurricane Irma.

The discussion revolved around how to move forward, what should come next and what could have been done differently.

A committee was created to solicit ideas and make recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott for improved hurricane-recovery efforts. Representatives Nunez and Renner were expected to meet with St. Johns County administrators, department heads and Emergency Management staff to discuss lessons learned from the recent hurricane.

“I felt it was important to come up here to meet with the folks here in St. Johns County -- to be able to understand what their unique needs are (and) what were the lessons learned here,” Nunez said.

Both representatives were appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran to sit on the Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness, with Nunez serving as committee chair.

"I have created a Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness, which will be chaired by Speaker Pro Tempore Jeanette Nuñez," Corcoran said. "We must move quickly to assess our recent experience and pinpoint tangible, meaningful ways to improve Florida’s hurricane readiness and response capabilities."

Locally, things are starting to get back to normal on St. George Street. Businesses have reopened and tourists are back. The committee is not only trying to determine Irma’s impact, but it’s trying to assess what a stronger hurricane could do to the area.
 
At Sunset Grille on St. Augustine Beach, the lessons from less than a year ago are still fresh on people’s minds.

“The impact of Matthew sort of instilled a sense of diligence toward preparing for Irma, so when it actually hit, I feel like we were a little bit more prepared,” said Tony Grandinetti, the general manager at the restaurant. “A lot of our local customers and guests – they felt the same way.”

The restaurant suffered some cosmetic damage to its exterior, but avoided any major flooding. Others in the county were not as fortunate.

“We’re just trying to keep very open and trying to get as much candor as possible from the people that we’re meeting with -- as to, not just what went well, but what could have gone better,” Renner said.

Those at Sunset Grille said the state’s response has been helpful.

“ … I think they’re doing the right thing,” Grandinetti said. “And each (hurricane) that comes, they get a little bit better prepared, so I support all their efforts to make it safe for us.”

People also said they hope the next hurricane is a long way off.

The Select Committee also will make recommendations for broader proposals to address hurricane preparedness that can be considered during the 2018 legislative session. To assist the committee in their work, a prepared list of issues and questions was created to serve as a starting point.

The topics include: 

Protection of Elderly, Disabled and Other Vulnerable Persons

  • Can the requirements for nursing homes, ALFs and group homes be strengthened to improve the safety and comfort of the residents?
  • Can the quality of facilities’ emergency planning be improved?
  • What are the barriers to facilities maintaining adequate staffing when evacuations occur or curfews are imposed?
  • Is there a need to expand the number of shelters or to improve their capacity to withstand wind damage, flooding, and prolonged power outages?
  • Can schools and universities be more fully or effectively used as shelters?
  • Do the current arrangements for special needs shelters provide adequate resources for medically complex and technologically dependent patients?
  • Are there regulatory, financial or workforce barriers to meeting these patients’ needs?

Efficient evacuation and re-entry

  • Can fuel reserves be established or expanded in ways that would facilitate the availability of fuel for evacuees?
  • Can availability of resources such as food, water, and other necessities be improved for evacuees?
  • What road improvements, such as improving shoulders on key roads, can be done to facilitate evacuation and re-entry?
  • Are there strategies to assist homeowners and business owners in coping with prolonged limits on re-entry?

Mitigation of future storm damage

  • Are changes needed in the content or procedures of the current building code?
  • Can electric outages be limited by infrastructure hardening, solar lighting or underground utilities?
  • Are there innovative ways to avoid or reduce flooding, including ways to expeditiously and safely remove excess water?