NCEM preps for future storms
Nassau County Emergency Management Director Billy Estep updated the Hilliard Town Council Jan. 18 about the agency’s goals and recent storm impacts.
Estep outlined the five strategies performed by NCEM including preparedness, mitigation, prevention, response and recovery. As part of its preparedness plan, the agency’s primary response is to conduct a threat analysis on the entire community.
“We know primarily what the bulk of the primary threats on the community are and we’ve endeavored to then go through the process of going through a planning, training and exercise routine and so that’s typically what we do,” Estep said. “We write a definitive multi-agency plan. We go through a process of going through a process of training on those plans, making sure the agencies are proficient in whatever processes they will implement during those threat events and then conduct after-action reviews on those. And those after-action reviews then go through a process of revising those plans and making sure that we go back into a training and exercising scheme.”
In mitigation, the goal is to prevent the impact of threats affecting the community. NCEM coordinates the local mitigation strategy committee, with goals to lessen flooding impacts and make the community more resilient.
Estep said that the U.S. Congress seeks to transfer the National Flood Insurance Program to the private sector.
“They’re actually bidding that out so that insurers can start picking up that risk rather than it continuing to be on the backs of us, the taxpayers,” he said. “And unfortunately, with a lot of the disasters that have now transpired over the last five or so years, the risk claim impact back to the federal government is becoming higher and higher and higher to the extent of billions and billions and billions of dollars so what many people are now seeing is that the NFIP rating or the amount of premium you are specifically paying is going up higher. Those premiums are becoming more of a burden in some cases to people because what they enjoyed up to the last couple of years is the fact that the federal government has been subsidizing those ratings, so now that rating process is becoming more in tune with what the actual risk versus what the actual claim rate is.”
Citizens can minimize NFIP impacts by acquisition and demolition of properties in flood zones or by elevating structures.
“We’ve been having several conversations with many members in the community that have experienced recent flooding as far as those opportunities,” Estep said.
The agency’s response mode is an aspect of emergency management that most citizens are aware.
For disaster prevention, the agency stays updated on local, state, national and global events.
Florida Statute 252 requires each county in Florida have an emergency plan that includes the five strategies for emergency management. The statute evolved after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992.
During the response phase, emergency management staff coordinates law enforcement, fire protection and additional resources. Social agencies and volunteers are also managed during crises.
“That was a big emphasis in Irma as opposed to Matthew, especially on the West Side of the county,” Estep said.
Matthew and Irma had impacts less than a Category 1 hurricane. Hurricane Matthew occurred in 2016 while Hurricane Irma hit the area in September.
“Irma was up to four times the size of Matthew, which is what really impressed everyone in the state and forced the governor and the Florida Department of Emergency Management to increase their timelines up by 48 hours, so we were actually implementing mandatory evacuations or highly suggesting them almost two full days in advance of where we normally would have, because of the fact that 80 percent of the population of the state was impacted by this storm.”
Countywide, Irma resulted in more debris and rainfall than Matthew, with a higher tidal surge impact on the West Side. The Emergency Operations Center was activated from just after Labor Day through Thanksgiving, Estep recalled.
“Overall Irma saw a much higher cost to both the governments in Nassau County as well as the citizens in comparison to Matthew,” he said.
The impacts could have been worse. What eventually lessened the impacts of Hurricane Irma was that its core began to break up as it moved toward Nassau.
“I would like to say that Nassau County was very fortunate in the 40-mile wobble,” Estep said. “Both of these storms wobbled to the east by 40 miles, which is what lessened the impact to Nassau County. Matthew, when it got up to about the St. Johns County line, wobbled about 40 miles east, which made a significant difference in the wind field over the county.”