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Sha'Ron James


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Hermine report: State denied requests for help

 

Date: December 13, 2016
Source: Tallahassee Democrat
Author:  Jeff Burlew

 

The state of Florida turned down several requests by the city of Tallahassee and Leon County for help even before Hurricane Hermine made landfall on Sept. 2.

The denials for help from the state are among the findings of an exhaustive report by county staff on its response to Hermine, the most destructive storm to hit Tallahassee since Hurricane Kate in 1985. County commissioners voted unanimously during a Tuesday workshop to accept the report and move forward with numerous recommendations for improvement.

The report found the following:

- A request by the city and county for 20,000 sandbags was denied by the state Emergency Operations Center even though they were identified as available by the Florida Department of Transportation.

- A request by the city for 30 generators was denied by FDOT staff at the state EOC despite the local FDOT office in Midway identifying the machines as available.

- A request for help to clear debris on federal roads was denied by FDOT staff at the state EOC. The county was later informed that FDOT contractors could help clear the “cut and toss” debris after the county had exhausted all of its staff and contractual resources.

In all three cases, the requests were sent through the state’s emergency management constellation, a system in which local governments make and track requests for help. The state marked each of the requests as “complete,” meaning they had been sufficiently addressed, even though they hadn’t been, the report says.

After the denials, the city and county again asked for help with generators and debris removal. The state approved a subsequent request for 50 generators along with help with debris removal, some 41 hours after landfall, the report says.

In the days after the storm struck, Gov. Rick Scott criticized the pace of electric repairs and accused the city and county of turning down recovery assistance. The county report refutes the accusations and described some of the communication as “misinformation originating from the Governor’s Office.”

Commissioner Kristin Dozier, who made note of the problems during the workshop, asked that the report be sent to legislative committees, House and Senate leadership, the Governor’s Office and others.

“In this report, what I saw was clear evidence that we could have gotten some assistance beforehand that may have sped us up,” she said. “And it was denied.”

But Commissioner Bryan Desloge, the lone Republican on the board, defended the governor.

“He stepped up and was a good ally, and frankly, I couldn’t be more proud,” he said. “He was very clear: I want to get stuff done, I have access to resources nobody else does and I’m bringing them to the table. So frankly, I think he did a nice job and I think our staff worked spectacularly.”

Commissioner Bill Proctor said Scott’s comments and tone in the storm’s aftermath were “not helpful.” But he suggested the county try to move forward with the state in improving disaster response.

“This gives us a conversation starter to sit down with the governor, if he cares,” Proctor said. “And our chairman and our leadership team can go there and we can marshal and create a seamless process. If he’s serious about his talk, match it with his walk.”