Hurricane Ian ravaged the state of Florida, leaving death and destruction in its path.
The devastation also made it hard for first responders — engaged in search, rescue and recovery efforts — to find a comfortable place to sleep at night, said Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano.
He thinks steps can be taken to improve that situation and he wants to join with Andrew Fossa, Pasco County’s emergency management director, and others, including Kevin Guthrie, the county’s former emergency management director and current director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, to try to find some solutions.
At the Pasco County Commission’s Oct. 25 meeting, Mariano told his colleagues that he’d been in Fort Myers to help deliver food gathered by a Pasco Rotary District and to visit with some county first responders.
The commissioner said that’s when he learned that first responders sent by Pasco were sleeping in locker rooms or under bleachers.
“And, I found that very disturbing,” Mariano said.
Fossa responded: “So, it’s very difficult, especially when we were in Lee County for three weeks.
“The sleeping arrangements — you’re basically going primitive. You’re living a lifestyle, like sleeping in a campground, in tents.
“The hotels — (have) no power, no water.
“We were sleeping in the EOC (Emergency Operations Center). Some of us got better sleeping arrangements later on,” he said.
“Lee County actually secured a Best Western Hotel and blocked out all of the rooms, so first responders and contractors that were working the storm, were actually able to stay there.
“But a majority of the other folks that were down there, from other agencies, whether it be in-state or out-of-state, were sleeping on cots, or sleeping bags on the ground.
“Some were sleeping in parks.
“I met a group of folks on Pine Island that were sleeping in hammocks. They were tying their hammocks to trees and they were sleeping outside at night.
“There was just no room. There’s no place to put anybody.
“Between the displaced citizens trying to find places, the first responders trying to find places, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) coming in, contractors coming in — it got very overwhelmed, very quickly,” Fossa said.
Mariano added: “As I saw the sleeping arrangements, I was thinking, maybe there are improvements we can make.”
Typically, when a hurricane hits one part of the state, teams from other parts of the state respond to help, the county board member said.
Once cleanup efforts are underway, he said, “there’s opportunities there, we can make accommodations better.”
The board member then told Fossa: “I’d like to get with you, get with Kevin (Guthrie), get a group together and find out, ‘What can we do regionally? What can we do statewide?’ — to make (it) when you guys are going down there, to have better accommodations?”
“I think there’s some efficiencies, some things that we can do statewide, that can be a lot better,” Mariano added.
Fossa told the board: “We have been trying to get assets from the state. It is sometimes difficult.
“They do have assets that they can give to us to keep, that we can use for deployments. It’s just No. 1, finding a place to store it. No. 2, having something to haul it.”
Mariano said he wouldn’t expect all 67 counties to have the supplies they need, but he thinks a regional approach could be helpful.
The supplies could be stationed in different parts of the state, so they could be quickly deployed, when needed, Mariano said.
“What I just saw was disturbing,” Mariano.
He thinks there’s an opportunity to take steps to improve the situation, going forward.
Published November 02, 2022