Preparing for the unthinkable in Nassau County

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 5, 2015 7:23 p.m.


Nassau County Emergency Management Director Billy Estep explains his department's mission.
Nassau County Emergency Management Director Billy Estep explains his department’s mission in mitigating disasters and planning for recovery.

Nassau County Emergency Management Department Director Billy Estep and Senior Planner Martha Wagaman participated in a half-hour Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) workshop on March 3, 2015 to share information regarding the department’s efforts as a follow up to city Community Development Department (CDD) staff’s initial presentation to the City Commission on resiliency planning.

Although the county has been spared major hurricanes for the most part over the last 100 years, some say the area is overdue

em4Estep used a slide presentation to assist him in explaining to both the FBCC and the public about the role of his department in disaster mitigation and recovery. He stressed that storm surge is not tied to the category of a particular storm. He also said that 25 percent of both residents and businesses fail to return following a significant disaster. He emphasized that his department serves all municipalities in Nassau County, not just unincorporated portions of the county.

Estep and his staff are conducting a THIRA: Threat Hazard Identification and Risk Analysis. That analysis helps communities identify capability targets and resource requirements necessary to address anticipated and unanticipated risks.

em8Worst case scenarios for Nassau County include planning for hurricanes, storm surges and wind damage and even a tsunami.

Storm surge map for Nassau County
Storm surge map for Nassau County
Martha Wagaman
Martha Wagaman

Martha Wagaman talked about local mitigation strategy and indicated that the county is at the beginning of a 5-year planning cycle. She said that she is soliciting information from the city about projects that could be completed within this cycle that might be considered mitigation projects and therefore be candidates for state grant applications. In response to a question from Mayor Ed Boner she said that efforts to harden the proposed airport welcome center and even beach renourishment might be considered mitigation projects. She stressed that although projects might make the state grants list, there was no guarantee of funding.

em5em7To learn more about emergency planning for Nassau County, visit the department’s website There you will find links to many other sources of information on disaster planning and recovery.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.