Submitted by Dale Martin
Fernandina Beach City Manager
August 29, 2019 – 11:58 p.m.
Hurricane Dorian may possibly be an uninvited guest to your Labor Day celebrations this weekend. You have time to prepare.
Living in Florida, you should have some level of basic preparations always in place, including sufficient supplies of food, water, medicine, and appropriate documents. The standard recommendation for the amount of supplies is three days’ worth, but many agencies recommend seven days’ worth of supplies. Other recommended supplies included flashlights, batteries, and first aid kits. Don’t forget about pet supplies, if appropriate. Cash is important, too, since many electronic banking systems may be rendered inoperable if power is not available. For a full list of recommendations, please visit the FEMA web site Ready.gov and type “kit” in the search window.
The City has a series of its own preparatory events. With the assistance of Nassau County Emergency Management officials, City officials monitor storm activity weekly throughout most of the year, but especially during the traditional hurricane season. When a storm threatens northeastern Florida, the level of monitoring increases with at least daily, if not more frequent, reports and conversations.
It is during this monitoring that several key events are set into motion. The first event is likely the declaration of a state of emergency. Governor DeSantis declared a state of emergency for over twenty Florida counties on Wednesday. Nassau County and its local governments, including Fernandina Beach, will likely declare states of emergency on Thursday. The declaration of a state of emergency sets the starting point for the availability of future response and recovery funds from federal and state agencies. In some instances, the state of emergency provides additional tools to local governments to respond to the emergency.
The City has several pre-establish contracts in place for supplies. City fuel supplies will likely be “topped-off” by this weekend. Debris management contractors will be on-notice to mobilize. Critical personnel are advised to tend to family matters such as schedules and housing needs. Contact information among key agencies and personnel are re-confirmed.
If it is determined that the impending storm sufficiently threatens the City, the outlying areas of Amelia Island, and coastal Nassau County, an evacuation may be ordered. The evacuation order will be issued by Nassau County officials and although ample time to leave the area will be provided, do not delay your departure. I expect that, given the uncertainty of the Dorian’s path, the availability of hotel accommodations in less threatened areas is already extremely limited.
This evacuation order should not be taken lightly. Historic data indicates that approximately fifty percent of City residents remain on the island following an evacuation order. Despite the need for evacuation, several City staff will remain in Fernandina Beach to monitor the storm and manage the City’s response.
Public safety services will continue to respond to calls for service as long as the safety of personnel and equipment can be reasonably assured. This means that in the worst circumstances of the storm, it may not be possible to respond to calls. In an extreme event, it may actually be necessary to relocate City assets (personnel and equipment) to safer locations off Amelia Island in order to be able to return later (when safely possible) to Fernandina Beach to begin recovery operations.
A return to Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, if an evacuation is ordered) may be restricted by state and local officials for a variety of reasons, all of which are related to safety. If necessary, the roads and bridges to Amelia Island need to be inspected. Downed power lines may need to be secured. Roads likely need to be cleared. It is a process that never moves at the speed returnees demand (which is likely what leads many residents to not evacuate in the first place).
Social media will spawn innumerable rumors: an evacuation will begin, the bridges are closed, the bridges are opened, the power will be turned off to encourage people to leave, etc. I encourage residents to monitor official state, county, and city channels for timely and accurate information. Information is also provided to several local media organizations as soon as possible.
Everyone’s actions can be manageable will proper preparation. Please take the appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of yourself and your family.