Preparations for 2018 hurricane season begin as recovery continues from 2017

Lee Herald Favicon 16Blue tarps still dot some neighborhoods in Southwest Florida, reminders of Hurricane Irma’s wrath as the powerful hurricane carved its way up the Florida Peninsula just over eight months ago.

While some still work to heal the scars from last year, emergency managers and local officials have their eyes ahead for the next one – after all the official start to hurricane season is just weeks away, on June 1.

During the Governor’s Conference on Hurricanes Wednesday in West Palm Beach, a warning came to local officials by way of FEMA Administrator Brock Long: don’t rely on us to handle it for you.

“If you don’t have the ability to do things such as provide your own food and water and your own commodities to your citizens for the first 48 to 72 hours, and I’m asking you to consider pre-event management concepts, I’m questioning whether or not you’re an EMAP (Emergency Management Accreditation Program) accredited emergency management agency,” Long said.

“If you’re waiting on FEMA to run your commodities, that’s not the solution. I can’t guarantee that we can be right on time to backfill everything you need.”

Long’s words came from the federal agency being stressed to the breaking point by natural disasters across the country over the past year: Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, wildfires on the west coast of the United States, and an ongoing volcanic eruption in Hawaii.

FEMA has been pumping out preparedness information for months leading toward the start of the 2018 hurricane season. One of the nastier surprises that many discovered both in Florida and in Texas last year is that homeowner’s insurance typically does not cover flood damage, and that most flood insurance policies have a 30-day waiting period between when they’re purchased and when they’re effective.

The average flood insurance claim paid by the National Flood Insurance Program after Irma was $49,000, FEMA said, and pointed out that federal assistance for the uninsured is typically offered as loans, and usually isn’t as expansive as insurance work.

“FEMA disaster assistance limits home repair grants to only make a primary residence safe, sanitary, and function,” the organization said in a bulletin.

Locally, preparedness seminars are already underway. Irma marked the end of a 12-year period without a hurricane striking Florida’s west coast – 2005’s Wilma the last before that – which means that the droves of new residents in the area who had never experienced a storm now had a concept with which to work.

The Pelican Community Center in Naples is hosting two hurricane readiness seminars on Thursday, hosted by NBC-2 meteorologist Rob Duns. The Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce is hosting a meeting on June 6 to go over storm readiness as well.

Meanwhile, Governor Rick Scott, who spoke in West Palm Beach on Wednesday, also announced his office’s plans for how the state will use $616 million in block grants given to the state by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The funds will be used to repair and replace damaged homes, provide assistance to damaged businesses, and fund the land acquisition and building of affordable housing, Scott’s office said.

“Even before Hurricane Irma made landfall, we began working with the federal government to express the diverse needs our state would face following a storm of this magnitude and how best to address those needs. Since the storm, we have worked tirelessly along-side community and business leaders to build stronger communities that are better prepared for future disasters. I’m glad that DEO submitted this plan to help families in our state,” Scott said in the statement.

80 percent of the funds must be used in the areas deemed hardest-hit, which include Collier and Lee Counties. HUD has 45 days to approve the plan.

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