February 2018 – Hurricane Irma provided the River Board Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) with a number of lessons to learn from and opportunities for continued collaboration amongst the various agencies represented at the TAC’s January 16 meeting. Joel Brown, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) staff representative to the River Board TAC, briefed the TAC on the District’s experiences and response to Hurricane Irma.
Mr. Brown detailed the District’s Emergency Operations Center activation on September 5, days before the history-making storm made landfall in Florida. Structure Operations staff released water in anticipation of the storm, cleared debris from structures, and inspected generators and other equipment. General Services staff secured and protected District offices, and Land Management staff closed all District-managed properties. As the storm hit our area, the District’s water control structures were monitored around the clock. Even after Irma passed the area, staff responded to rising water levels and various flooding issues, because every major river in the District had reached a flood stage.
Business operations across all divisions in the District were affected by Hurricane Irma. Land Management and Field Operations assisted Structure Operations in removing debris from culverts, canals, and structures. Equipment such as a sand bag machine and generators were deployed to government agencies in need. Staff worked to restore power to District offices and get equipment to essential staff. Various members of staff helped watershed modeling efforts so that District leaders could have real-time data to make daily decisions. Information on aquifer levels and rainfall was also gathered for the water resource reports.
Public Affairs staff communicated crucial information with the media, other agencies, employees and the public. As part of that communication effort, Regulation staff manned a Flood Response hotline, where they received phone calls from at least 100 members of the public concerned about flooding. Field staff also responded to flooding issues.
The TAC discussed these and other issues related to addressing the impacts of heavy rainfall and the river. This coordination between agencies and the River Board is a hallmark of the River Board’s organization and function.