Were disaster relief programs ready for Hurricane Michael?

The logo for the American Red Cross.
Photo Courtesy of the American Red Cross.

Hurricane Michael hit Florida’s Panhandle Wednesday as a Category 4, potentially leaving Florida’s capital in utter destruction.

Tallahassee’s surrounding counties, including Wakulla and Franklin, were given ordered mandatory evacuations in advance of Hurricane Michael. Tallahassee has never had a storm of this caliber before. The question now is how prepared were the disaster relief programs in Leon County?

The American Red Cross North Florida Region Capitol assists families in seeking shelter during emergency situations no matter what time of day. The main goal for Red Cross is to ensure residents get back on their feet following a disaster.

Red Cross spokeswoman Dianna Vanhorn said that Red Cross is consistently planning in case something of this nature occurs. “We typically prep all the time, we are always preparing our community, supporting and training all the time. Something like this when it starts up and we start moving people and supplies, it takes a couple of days, so we’ve been working on this since Friday.”

There are different partners that the Red Cross works with to get everything in order. “We have been working with our government and community partners and we are opening or supporting evacuation centers. Right now we have over 30 evacuation centers opened across 24 counties. We are working with a lot of people to get those open, people are paying a lot of attention to the storm, so the shelters are being heavily used and people are turning out, providing a safe place for folks to go,” she said.

Vanhorn added, “For an evacuation shelter, the first 24 hours there’s water and snacks. We encourage people to bring what they need to be comfortable, whether that’s air matrasses and blankets or specialty foods because for the first 24 hours there’s such a large volume and there are so many evacuation centers or shelters open it’s a scarce use of supplies and that’s a joint partnership that we’ve created with the county and state. After that it goes into longer term sheltering, there will be more supplies available, there will be cots and blankets and anything else, that’s what comes in after the storm has passed, that is how it changes to a post-impact shelter instead of an evacuation center.”

"Red Cross not only considers what happens during disasters but the future for residents long-term, considering that their homes could be destroyed", she said.

Leon County Emergency Management began working with the Capital Area Chapter of the America Red Cross to provide six different shelter locations and provided a Citizens Information Line for transportation to the shelters because StarMetro was suspended.

According to the site: “With the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region in the forecasted path, now is the time to gather your disaster supplies, check your emergency plans and get the resources you need to stay informed.”

While Floridadisaster.org was giving daily updates on the position of Hurricane Michael, locations to seek shelter and how to create emergency disaster kits.

Assisting residents in Florida is the main focus according to the site. “The State Emergency Response Team is tasked with providing disaster assistance to the residents of the state of Florida. The SERT is comprised of branches and Emergency Support Functions (ESF). These entities work closely with one another to fulfill mission task and request for direct aid to disaster impact areas.”