The City of Marco Island has been no stranger to major storm events, and after each occurrence they have learned a number of important lessons and implemented plans to deal with those areas that have needed to be addressed.
Hurricane Dorian reminded many of the emergency management personnel who were here in 1992 of the ferocious battering the Bahama Islands took before the leveling of portions of Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties. This all happened as a result of Hurricane Andrew when it made landfall near Homestead, Florida on August 24, 1992 as a Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds. Eventually Andrew would move across the state before exiting just below Marco and proceeding along to Louisiana, but not before leaving its mark on Marco Island.
Dorian broke the record set by Andrew when its barometric pressures dropped to 911 mbar, versus the previous record held by Andrew which showed a low pressure of 922 mbar.
Starting with Andrew, professionals who have been tracking hurricanes the last several decades have been cautioning both first responders and residents to be aware of the phenomenon of “rapid intensification” of a storm’s strength, as that trend has become more prevalent in the last 20 years.
Hurricane Michael, which did significant damage in the Florida Panhandle was a perfect example of that; as that system increased from a Category 2 storm to a huge Category 5 monster event, increasing its wind speeds over 45 mph in a 24-hour period, battering the panhandle with 160 mph winds.
Emergency managers within the State of Florida, Collier/Lee County, the City of Naples and Marco Island closely monitored the path of Hurricane Dorian and its intensification throughout the entire week preceding its arrival into the Bahamas. The storm would brush by the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, before taking up a track to move towards the Bahamas and leaving forecasters attempting to make sense of its progress and possible landfall in Florida.
On Marco Island, all city departments prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. Since Irma, a number of the issues which were identified as needing attention have been dealt with.
The city’s dedicated VFS radio back up system showed its value during Hurricane Irma and was prepared to be put back into use if needed. That came in handy during Irma when the county communication system went down.
Retired Deputy Fire Chief Chris Byrne was brought back onboard as the point person for the Hurricane Recovery Efforts on the island after Irma and his work has paid great dividends.
One of the major changes has come from the federal level, which changed how they view an important aspect of their role, according to Byrne. FEMA has instituted a hazard mitigation program, which addresses weaknesses prior to an event and provides the assets to deal with those issues prior to catastrophic events, therefore minimizing or preventing failures in infrastructure within communities.
FEMA now provides the Tier 1 Mitigation Monies to the state through the State Mitigation Office. This is in an effort to be proactive, rather than re-active after a disaster to protect the valuable infrastructure of a community, therefore saving lives and valuable capital assets.
Byrne would coordinate with the city staff as they would review the projects they saw to be in the best interest of the city. Staff would then score and rank those projects and that report would be presented to the local County Mitigation Strategy Committee for their review, ranking and approval, before moving those recommendations up to the state level. Everything done would have to be approved and ranked prior to being forwarded to Tallahassee. “It’s a very fair system which has benefited the communities around our state and our city greatly,” said Byrne.
Byrne has also worked with the county in the after-storm removal of debris, as well as inventoried and worked with contractors to repair damage to city buildings and vehicles due to Irma and sought out grants to cover those costs.
The replacement of Marco Fire Station 50 may also be the recipient of some of Byrne’s hard work and that of the entire city staff. Funding for emergency generators for the city’s water supply out at the Marco Lakes on 951 will also benefit from his efforts, as well as a number of other projects.
A dedicated fuel supply depot is also online to be acquired which will provide emergency responders and public works personnel with their own dedicated diesel and gas supply to allow around the clock operations.
The city’s EOC (Emergency Operations Center) was prepared to be brought online and activated in the event that the storm had shifted its path, putting Collier County and Marco Island into direct danger. Phone and data lines, as well as computer stations were all in place in case it was needed.
“No one can be completely prepared for the onslaught of the damage of a Category 5 Hurricane can bring, for there are so many unknowns. However, having said that the residents need to know that they have a wonderful team of professionals here working for them. We can thank God we didn’t have to deal with it and continue to work hard as a team to improve every day,” said City Manager Michael McNees when asked to comment.
Continued work is needed, but the city continues to work diligently to acquire the necessary training, equipment and technology to deal with those types of disasters and educate its personnel and residents to be better prepared and ready to act.