Flooded Airwaves: Assessing the Government’s Response to Irma

Hurricane Irma’s aftermath in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Stephanie Strickland/FPR)

Twenty-six people have died in Florida and another 60 perished in the Caribbean and the Southeast as a result of Hurricane Irma’s destructive path which started over a week ago.

Millions more were left without power during this massive storm, however, the actions taken by Governor Rick Scott and local officials are being commended for their appropriate and timely response to the statewide emergency.

From a political standpoint, this storm placed Scott in the limelight, and throughout the days leading up to the storm he made his presence known as he urged citizens to prepare and evacuate.

“Every Floridian should take this seriously and be aggressive to protect their family,” Scott said in the days leading up to the storm.

Additionally, Scott worked with local officials to maintain the supply of gas and other basic commodities prior to the storm, especially in areas like the Keys, where the full force of Irma was felt.

On September 8, 2017, Scott ordered the closure of all public schools and universities in the state, and many of those locations were used as shelters for their respective communities.

Thousands were housed in each shelter as approximately 7 million people were displaced due to Hurricane Irma.

The entire state, including the Gainesville area, felt the wrath of the record-breaking storm.

Safety concerns arose at the University of Florida campus, as areas near Lake Alice saw considerable flooding. John Shaw, the director of Alachua County Management, was one of the leaders in the aftermath of Irma and urged students and citizens alike to remain off the roads until given the all-clear, earlier this week.

“We’re going out and doing damage assessments as soon as we can get the roads cleared for emergency vehicles,” said Shaw on September 11, 2017. His tactics aligned with the majority of state leadership as emergency vehicles raced throughout the state, following the storm.

On September 10, 2017, Scott signed Executive Order #17-235, and the Lottery’s Executive Order #17-0001 which “allows for prudent actions to be taken, including temporary suspension of business operations, as necessary to ensure the health and safety of all Floridians,” reports the Gainesville Sun.

Anthony Pedicini, a Tampa based Republican consultant, praised his colleague by describing how Scott “came up to bat having never been through a huge storm…This was a storm that was going to affect the entire state and the most populated portions of the state. This guy has handled it like he’s done it every day.”

Resolving the problems caused by major storms like Hurricane Irma is costly. According to the Financial Times, Irma alone could cost insurers up to $65 billion. These figures do not take into account the detrimental impact of Irma on the tourism industry in Florida.

Ongoing relief efforts are being made as many in the storms’ path remain without power and basic resources. However, some remain critical of FEMA and other resources during this storm.

USA Today reported from Fort Meyers that “It’s been four days since people have had a hot meal. It’s been four days since Lehigh Acres and Gateway residents have been able to leave their flooded neighborhoods.”

The magnitude of Irma has displayed a resilience within Florida’s citizens, in addition to becoming a deciding factor in the state’s upcoming senate elections.

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