Atlantic Hurricane Season Background

As east-coasters prepare for the summer months, planning vacations, organizing summer camps, and enjoying long-awaited trips to the beach, many will deal with the reality of destructive storms. According to research, mitigation programs can collectively save the American public $3.4 billion every year. Crisis mitigation and emergency support for natural hazards is the top priority of Florida’s State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC).

Palm trees blowing in hurricane force winds

Atlantic hurricane season in the United States starts on June 1 and ends on November 30 and frequently devastates the residents that lay in its wake. Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall in August 2023, reached Category 4 status and caused billions of dollars of damage to the state. In adept preparation and response to the storm, Florida utilized 6 staff persons, providing aid for Emergency Support Function (ESF-19) Fuels at the State Emergency Operations Center.

ESF-19 Fuels is responsible for coordinating the State Emergency Response Team (SERT) responses in Florida. This involves cooperating with private sector providers of energy and transportation fuels, including propane, fuel oil, diesel, and gasoline. During emergencies, the ESF-19 focuses on monitoring and communicating with suppliers and distributors to ensure that adequate amounts of fuel are delivered to support emergency response. This program was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy's State Energy Program, which emphasizes the state's role as the decision-maker and administrator for program activities within their state that are tailored to their unique resources, delivery capacity, energy security and energy goals.

Emergency Support Function Preparation and Action

To coordinate relief efforts and restore normal service, ESF-19 works by communicating with the public government agencies and direct emergency personnel. They provide current fuel shortage and supply information to the SEOC so actions can be orchestrated to minimize the damage.

The SERT responds to every hurricane in full force. However, with Idalia predicted to make landfall in Tallahassee as a category 4 storm, there were extra contingencies in place. A small group of the SERT traveled to Pensacola while the storm was anticipated to hit. Their goal was to ensure that there would always be someone available to coordinate response and recovery. Even if the State EOC lost power or was compromised, there was a team ready to assist.

Once it was clear that Idalia was going to pose a threat to Florida, the Governor issued his Executive order declaring a state of emergency. The SERT was soon activated and began preparing. Once the storm made landfall, evacuations were called for designated areas.

Search and rescue began immediately after it was safe. From then, the task at hand was to restore power, clear roads, and support individuals who had been impacted. Staging began in preparation for linesman to restore power and remove debris to clear roads following the storm.

Challenges and Lasting Impacts

The SERT serves every impacted region and coordinates with all local and county Emergency Management directors and staff. Areas affected by Hurricane Idalia were rural, which made restoring power particularly difficult since many residents were on small, isolated grids. It took multiple days to reach everyone and find out who had lost power as well since they were so disconnected.

Lineman works on power line from bucket truck

Having organization and people to coordinate on the ground was the most effective way to tackle these issues. SERT members needed to physically go to the impacted areas to identify what needs there were and coordinate that back with county resources and linesman.

Despite the challenges faced, power was able to be restored quickly to communities and roads were cleared in record time. The progress made also resulted in a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) disaster recovery center to be opened quicker than in any other state disaster. Now, recovery efforts are still taking place with individuals applying for FEMA assistance and trying to rebuild.

Programs from Other States

While the ESF-19 program is unique to Florida, states up the east coast have come up with unique solutions on how to prepare for hurricane damage to energy grids:

Maryland gives residents the option to receive text and email alerts from their retrospective county and can utilize the Maryland Emergency Management Agency’s live Osprey Emergency Management Map to track weather watches and warnings. They list resources to prevent oil and chemical spills, sewage flooding, and waterway contamination. Following storms, there is contact information for local water authorities to assess drinking water, as well as steps to avoid infectious diseases, chemical hazards and injuries from floodwater.

New Hampshire coordinates with the Division of Enforcement to collect and distribute emergency response activities of the affected utilities. Aside from participating in emergency exercises and drills conducted by New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Division of Enforcement prepares and publishes After Action Reports for historical events that affect a substantial part of the population.

Rhode Island provides opportunities to sign up for community warning systems and risk assessment tools. They provide preparation instructions for flash flooding, caution around downed power lines, and ideal storm shelter locations. Based on location and community plans, they give resources to arrange plans for evacuation or sheltering-in-place including evacuation zone information.

The DOE State Energy Program provides funding and technical assistance to all fifty states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia to enhance energy security, advance state-led energy initiatives, and increase energy affordability. The State Energy Program emphasizes the state’s role as the decision maker and administrator for program activities within the state that are tailored to their unique resources, delivery capacity, and energy goals.