The review, funded by area nonprofits, will look to improve the county's response to storms in the future.
Nearly two months after Hurricane Irma passed over Sarasota, storm debris along the roads remains one of the biggest reminders of the storm's impact on the region. Looking ahead, Sarasota County will now review its storm preparation strengths and weaknesses to better prepare for the next emergency.
To do this, the county hired Craig Fugate, the former administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Fugate will lead the review, which will accompany peer reviews by three other Florida emergency management professionals. Community stakeholders, including local municipalities, Sarasota County Schools, area hospitals, nonprofits and the business community, will also provide input.
Beginning next month, Fugate will begin meeting with the stakeholders to review the timeline of events and actions related to Hurricane Irma. Key findings, recommendations and next steps will be reviewed and developed by Fugate and a small team. It will include information about decision making and shelter management, among other actions, so officials can better prepare for the next emergency.
The review will culminate in a final report, expected to be completed in early 2018.
“We recognize the importance of reviewing all of our responses to a disaster, especially a storm of Irma’s magnitude,” said County Administrator Tom Harmer in a release. “Having respected professionals in the field of emergency management help review the county’s operations will ensure that our next response to a disaster incorporates lessons learned and leverages best practices.”
The study will be funded by the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and partly by state grant funding for emergency management, according to the release. A county spokesperson said the total cost for the review has not been determined.
At the Oct. 11 Sarasota County Commission meeting, Commissioner Nancy Detert raised concerns about the costs and benefits of the review before it was finalized, although the county won't be paying for it.
“I’m just not interested in paying a consultant to tell us what we did right or wrong,” she said, adding that aside from one or two “little hiccups,” things went smoothly from her perspective. “If you all have the time and money, you’re on a different planet than me frankly.”
Harmer and other commissioners disagreed with Detert about the importance of the review. The county administrator called a review “critical” for the county.
“The system does need to be audited,” Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo said. “What occurs during that period of time is arguably the most significant and important thing we can do — it’s the reason you have government in the first place… I can’t think of anything more important than this.”
Fugate served as President Barack Obama's FEMA administrator for eight years beginning in 2009, overseeing the federal government's response to hurricanes Sandy and Matthew. He served as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's emergency management director for eight years before that, handling the state's response to storms including Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina and Wilma.
In addition to Fugate, three peer reviewers will be brought in that agreed to work for free, aside from travel costs: Alan Harris, emergency management director for Seminole County; Manny Soto, emergency management director for the City of Orlando; and Jonathan Lord, deputy director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
“Their feedback will be invaluable in helping our community be even better prepared in the event that disaster strikes,” Emergency Services Director for Sarasota County Rich Collins said in the release.