Former FEMA director Craig Fugate says recovery from a hurricane is a difficult, long-term process.
Destroyed homes, streets littered with debris or flooded with saltwater and sand.
Those are the images of a community struck by a tropical storm or hurricane.
Craig Fugate has seen them all before. The keynote speaker at the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce’s 15th Annual Disaster Preparedness Seminar was Florida’s director of emergency management from 2001-2009, when the state was struck by multiple storms. He directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 2009-2016.
His message on May 26, at the Longboat Key Club focused on how residents can best handle a storm’s aftermath.
Fugate offered some takeaways on how to get back to normal:
“Do not let anybody tell you that you do not live in a flood zone,” Fugate said. “You want to make sure you have the funds to rebuild and repair against all hazards.”
Fugate stressed that, without flood insurance, a policy will not cover any damage due to rising water, which can be caused by something as simple as a clogged storm drain or as devastating as a storm surge.
“It may not just be wet carpets and wet sheetrock,” he said. “It could be that the structure is gone.”
Many forms of insurance often require weeks before going into effect, and many policies can’t be written at all when storms approach. The lesson: Don’t wait until the last minute.
Take care of yourself
Fugate said the first days and weeks after a storm are the most dangerous.
“Pace yourself,” Fugate said. “Don’t become the next casualty.”
In 2004 and 2005, when Florida was hit with six hurricanes, Fugate said the leading cause of death was head trauma from falls off ladders and roofs. Heart attacks are also common.
He reminded residents that most hurricanes occur in August and September, meaning high temperatures and high humidity. Because the storms often cause power outages, air conditioning is largely not available.
These conditions make people susceptible to heat stroke, cardiac arrest and death, Fugate said.
Fugate said it is common for people to drive around hard-hit neighborhoods, seeking cash for on-the-spot repairs.
“Why don’t you just take your money and burn it?” Fugate said. “You’ll get more pleasure out of it. They’re probably not a licensed contractor, and if they are, they’re definitely nobody you want to do business with.”
Even if these scammers do the work, Fugate said it will likely not be up to code. He added that unlicensed workers will not have insurance, so if they are injured while working on a property, the homeowner could be responsible.
He suggested calling the police if such workers appear.
Know your neighbors
“Sometimes just going over and talking to a neighbor does more good than just about anything else we could do to help us through the tough times,” he said.
Rebuilding a community takes time: It could take years to get things back to normal, Fugate said.
“Don’t kid yourself,” he said. “This will not get better in a couple days or a couple weeks.”
Fugate stressed that when communities do rebuild, residents should ensure infrastructure is better prepared for another devastating storm.
Other speakers included Bob Harrigan, chief meteorologist for ABC-7 News, and Steven Guetschow, disaster program manager of American Red Cross of Southwest Florida.
Harrigan relayed a piece of advice he received from a Coast Guard official who helped rescue Louisiana residents during and after Hurricane Katrina: Text messages often get through phone calls can’t.
Herman Kruegle, who serves on the condo board of Whitney Beach, came away from the event with a new outlook on storms. After the event, he said he will discuss with the board taking a deeper look into the condo’s insurance policy to ensure everything is properly covered and make changes if needed.
Susan Phillips, assistant to the town manager, urged residents to sign up for e-notifications about hurricane conditions from the town’s website, as well as the automated weather warning system Code Red. She said if residents need assistance in signing up for the services, to call her.
“Every now and then, we may need to evacuate for a hurricane,” Fugate said. “But that’s the price of paradise.”
2017 storm names: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, Whitney
Tips for residents
Longboat Key residents can sign up for two programs through the town's website:
Visit longboatkey.org/notify.aspx to sign up for email notifications from Town Hall on a wide variety of topics, including emergency notifications.
Visit longboatkey.org and click on the Code Red link on the home page to sign up for emergency alerts or other critical community issues.
Call Assistant to the Town Manager Susan Phillips at 941-316-1999 for further assistance in signing up if needed.