As Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, approaches south Florida, the state’s Department of Health is moving quickly to prepare.
Once Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties Sept. 4, the department swung into action.
“Florida has a robust emergency operation system and once activated, Florida Department of Health is the lead for State Emergency Function 8 or ESF-8. Hospital evacuations, special needs sheltering, and other tasks are coordinated through that function,” Mara Gambineri, communications director for the department, said in an interview. “We have plans in place and exercise those frequently to prepare for these situations.”
Local officials also are preparing for the worst. Monroe County, in the Florida Keys, announced that three local hospitals, Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West, Fishermen’s Hospital in Marathon, and Mariners Hospital in Tavernier, are evacuating patients as part of the mandatory evacuation order for the archipelago.
Hospitals near Miami are putting together skeleton crews, making sure there will be adequate personnel for the height of the storm.
“All the hospitals are going into this type of military, alpha team, bravo team approach,” Rodolfo Oviedo, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Florida State University and surgical fellow at Baptist Hospital of Miami, said in an interview. “We’ll have one specialist per specialty, and we’ll have emergency medical technicians volunteering as well.”
Despite the forecast of Hurricane Irma’s size and strength, Dr. Oviedo said that he is not concerned about local hospitals succumbing to the storm or being caught unprepared.
“This is a city that is used to this, they all have plenty of experience with hurricanes,” Dr. Oviedo said. “These buildings are built to withstand hurricanes, especially the hospitals, and even the older hospitals have been renovated for that.”
Florida adopted new building codes to improve hurricane resilience, including special exterior glazing that can handle high winds, after Hurricane Andrew tore across the state in 1992.
Others already have started to look ahead to when after the storm has passed. The Red Cross is issuing volunteer applications for Irma relief, and has committed to sending enough supplies to shelter 120,000 people by Sept. 8-9, according to a Red Cross update.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long noted that despite the intense recovery efforts ongoing in Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey, his agency is primed to assist with the impact of Hurricane Irma as well.
“We’re not going to let money get in the way of saving lives,” Mr. Long said in an interview on “CBS This Morning” Sept. 6.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) on Sept. 6 requested that additional FEMA funding be added to the Hurricane Harvey disaster relief package currently being considered by Congress.
Floridians “need to know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct the necessary resources needed to help them in the recovery process,” the senators wrote in a joint letter to Senate leaders. “We strongly urge you to include additional funding in the Hurricane Harvey aid package to account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma.”
At press time, Hurricane Irma was expected to make landfall in south Florida on Sept. 10.
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