Florida’s political class with a few exceptions seems determined to put Irma in the rear-view mirror. Can you blame them? A natural disaster whose greatest impacts were largely due to man-made factors for much of the state, the storm now has led directly or indirectly to over 60 deaths in the state – an unacceptable number especially given that Irma only brought Major Hurricane impacts to five maybe six counties (Monroe, Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry and maybe Highlands). For the rest of the state it was either a minimal Hurricane or maybe even a Tropical Storm but still wreaked havoc. If I were a politician in the business of reelection, diversion and borderline dishonesty I’d also try and move past Irma as quickly as possible and try and skirt accountability.
Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran has wisely created a special committee to discuss and deal with Irma’s aftermath. Corcoran deserves credit for not trying to push the storm and its aftermath under the rug and the committee he is forming should have a wide latitude to make appropriate recommendations.
For Democrats, Irma’s aftermath raises tough issues where creative solutions are needed. The party of “no,” or “me too!” on the state level will need to actually show the type of leadership it has seldom provided particularly in local areas especially the large urban ones governed by Democrats.
Here are some points that need to be discussed in the upcoming weeks and months.
Power grid and infrastructure
- Our power companies must invest in newer equipment and more underground lines.
- Further investment in solar powered lamps, lanterns and lighting.
- Is there a more efficient way to pump out floodwaters especially from areas built on buffer lands and environmentally sensitive areas?
Evacuation and return routes
- Additional evacuation routes and orderly procedures need to be established.
- Should we have a plan to create reversible lanes in the future to aid in evacuations?
- In the future no housing development should be approved without sufficient evacuation routes. I can think of several in western Palm Beach County for instance where potential routes were rejected that would have been useful in this case.
- Should some highways that failed to win public support such as the Heartland Parkway, Red Hills Parkway and Turnpike Extension to Lebanon Station be reconsidered?
- A reserve of fuel needs to be set aside for those evacuating. Those staying in the areas that are projected to be impacted by storms should not have first priority for fuel if their is a shortage before the storm arrives- this is not something government can enforce but upon us as citizens if we are staying to not top off our fuel tanks so that those who need to fuel to evacuate can access it. Only once an orderly evacuation has taken place if fuel remains should citizens remaining top off their tanks. I personally violated this premise before the storm and feel very guilty about topping off a tank that might have resulted in gas being denied to someone evacuating.
- Motorists should be encouraged to take routes like US 1, US 19, US 27, US 41, US 301 and US 441 in and out of the peninsula instead of sticking to Interstate highways which result in logjams.
- Should evacuation orders be given earlier? Can the state work with the National Hurricane Center (NHC) on an enhanced warning system that builds off of the storm surge projections further in advance of a potential landfall?
Nursing homes and medical facilities
- These facilities must invest in generator power AND be put on the priority list to have power restored before private residences. It should not be an either or option. This includes nursing homes, hospitals, urgent care clinics and other similar facilities.
- All charter schools should be brought up to appropriate code and thus we have more shelters that can be used – this will give us more facilities to house the especially vulnerable in our society.
- Outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties the building code needs to be enhanced. A full accounting of what works in the current codes and what didn’t hold up in Irma should be put together before making any decisions.
- What happens if we have a Frances/Jeanne double-whammy like 2004 where the same area of the state is impacted by storms just 21 days apart? Based on the pace of Irma debris removal in many parts of the state, had Maria not turned north as early as it did we would have had a repeat scenario with many municipalities and counties still haggling over timelines and contractors. This is completely unacceptable and the state needs to draft guidelines to keep local governments on task and in line when it comes to this.
- With the winter tourism season around the corner missing road signs needs to be replaced. Some of the missing road signs are important as guide markers for those who come from out of state and spend their tourism dollars with us here in Florida.