With Hurricane Wilma threatening Southwest Florida’s coast, Florida’s elected leaders said Tuesday (Oct. 18) they expect state and local governments to respond to immediate disaster needs, instead of looking toward an already-stressed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for help.
According to a report in the Fort Myers News-Press, Florida has developed and refined its response with every storm since Hurricane Andrew hit the state in 1992. Charley, the first major storm to hit last year, kicked the learning process up by several notches.
The result, according to Florida officials, is that Florida is prepared for a storm, and less reliant on FEMA. “We are a model for other states,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach.
“Florida is ready for a storm, and Florida’s state and local governments can do many of the things that other states would need FEMA to do.”
Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has been critical of FEMA since Charley. But Florida’s hurricane response planning is better than most other states. said Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin.
“Even with all our concerns about FEMA, Florida will not face a meltdown in disaster relief after Wilma,” McLaughlin said, citing the state’s cohesive disaster plans.
Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez noted: “Florida has been hit by more hurricanes than any other state in the nation. We have a proven track record of successfully preparing for and responding to hurricanes that hit our state.”
Jeff Cohen, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, also said Florida’s experience is critical.
“We’d like to think that FEMA is preparing, but it’s so important that we have state and local officials with the experience they have.”
Gov. Jeb Bush believes it’s the states’ responsibility to be ready for such storms, said spokesman Russell Schweiss.
“Where most states might have to rely on FEMA and the federal government to provide the first response, Gov. Bush has made it a priority to be ready,” Schweiss said.
The state already has designated staging areas and sophisticated search-and-rescue teams ready, and is prepared with special evacuation routes and plans – things many other states never did, Schweiss said.
FEMA, meanwhile, also is making plans, said spokeswoman Debbie Wing in Washington, D.C.
“But things are very fluid now,” she said. “Right now we’re talking to everyone, making sure we’ll be ready.”