How would you react if you are a Florida ESF (Emergency Support Functions) responding to an approaching hurricane? On Thursday, October 10, 2013, sixty seventh-grade science students from New River Middle School located in Fort Lauderdale, had a unique opportunity to be involved in responding to fictitious Hurricane Barbara, Category 3. The hurricane simulation, which took place at the Broward County Emergency Operations Center, necessitated that students work together assuming various EFS roles.
The school based educational program StormZone walked the students through the process with the assistance of Miguel Ascarrunz, Assistant Director Broward County Emergency Operations Center, Erik Salna, FIU International Hurricane Research Center and Lucien Proby, Director of StormZone. Barbara Rapoza, a science teacher at New River Middle School coordinated participation both last year and this year, through the school’s Marine magnet program.
Based on the State of Florida’s Department of Community Affairs, Division of Emergency Management list of 18 ESF roles; the children broke into groups comprised of 11 of the 18 functions along with a mayor, reporters, meteorologists and an EOC coordinator. With a background of Hurricane Barbara 48 hours out to landfall provided by the student meteorologists, the children needed to respond to both before and after the storm challenges through their particular assigned roles using the resources allocated to that function. Unlike real life, in these exercises, resources were automatically replenished when exhausted.
One before the storm challenge included responding to an overturned gasoline tanker spilling oil along Alligator Alley blocking fleeing motorists. Along with hot temperatures, both cars and people; pets had escaped into the Everglades. One after the storm challenge focused on senior citizens stranded on a heavily populated island because of damage to the bridge by an ocean tanker that was also spewing oil. Without food, water, power or basic medical care, they desperately need help. Running through a total of five different scenarios, the students took their jobs seriously.
One student reporter commented, “What is the central question – how are we going to survive this?”
Another student took the exercise as a warm-up for her future plans to be a firefighter. Looking to enroll in a program through Broward County’s BSO’s Fire Explorers when she enters the eighth grade, she understands that this could be expected from her on a daily basis.
Barbara Rapoza, the 7th. grade New River Middle School science teacher shared that the exercise brought students together, some of whom did not know each other, requiring that they learn to work collaboratively under pressure. She said the students are “very aware of climate change and sea level rise” seeing the devastation first hand in John U. Lloyd Park after Hurricane Sandy. When the students saw that some of the sea oats that they had planted along the beach were gone, their first thought was to “save the beach”. It was only when Barbara shared with the students the larger impacts from the storm, the additional scenarios that were going on – homelessness, shelters, issues with food and water, “saving the beach didn’t seem the most important anymore.”
Eric Salna, when asked about climate change and hurricanes responded that climate change is exacerbating the problem however, because we are in the middle of a 30 year cycle that began in 1995, the “house is already on fire”. Reminding the students that the hurricane season runs for six months beginning on June 1 and ending November 30, we live in a region that experiences the most hurricanes making our region the hurricane capital of the U.S.
“We need to be ready, be prepared, have a plan.” was his advice to the students.
So, what is our region doing to be prepared, to have a plan? According to Miguel Ascarrunz, all of the 31 cities in Broward County along with related stakeholders such as the Red Cross meet on a monthly basis to discuss planning efforts identifying current gaps in services. On a regional basis the four counties, Monroe, Miami Dade, Broward and Palm Beach meet quarterly to discuss the same issues. Because of the recent adjustment of storm zone designations in Miami Dade, about 90% of its residents would need to evacuate during a storm surge event. Miguel added, with a limited availability of resources, this is “a concern for shelters especially”.
Following Operational Planning "P", which is a detailed graphic map of how a disaster situation is addressed, if the hurricane category is severe enough; categories run 1-5 with 5 the most severe, personnel might be brought in as early as 72 hours in advance of a storm event. This would insure that the right professionals are at the helm. Miguel commented that the room would be a lot busier and noisier than at today’s simulated exercise. An important part of the team should sophisticated technology be unavailable and additional communication needed, is R.A.C.E.S., Radio Amateur Civil Engineering Service. According to Robin Terrill, a R.A.C.E.S. officer appointed by the Broward County EOC Director, this unit was established under the old civil defense department allowing them to communicate with hospitals, shelters and ESFs using UHF, digital, HF and internet. The latter not being so reliable.
When asked about a condition of the built environment that he would like addressed to reduce the impact of disasters, he responded with his, “…concern of low lying areas along the coast, development including homes and businesses… are the most vulnerable.” He added that mobile homes, not as much as there are not as many as there used to be, adding however, that tornadoes are still an issue for mobile homes.
For more information about the student simulation, contact Miguel Ascarrunz, Assistant Director, Broward County Emergency Operations Center at 954-831-3908, firstname.lastname@example.org.