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Florida's hurricane response system was 'ill-prepared' for disaster, audit warned

Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Weather News

They said they would contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency for advice on how to improve the state's stockpile of provisions. They said they would renew contracts and renegotiate others. They also gave themselves a deadline: March 2018 -- 18 months after the audit report and four months after the end of the 2017 hurricane season.

But when Hurricane Irma looked like it was going to strike the length Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, state emergency officials went into full scramble mode to make up for lost time.

"Shelter supplies that were not stockpiled" were obtained "through emergency order or provided by FEMA," said Alberto Moscoso, communications director for the Division of Emergency Management.

"Before Irma made landfall, the division oversaw the largest evacuation in Florida's history," said Wesley Maul, interim secretary of the department, who replaced Koon last month.

He said the state opened more than 600 shelters and delivered fuel and supplies and personnel to critical areas. "No county requests or needs went unmet during the preparation or response," he said.

The Division of Emergency Management reports directly to the governor's office and has since 2011, when Gov. Rick Scott dismantled the Department of Community Affairs, which had previously housed the state's emergency operations. Unlike Koon, who had a career in emergency management, Maul, a former travel aide in Scott's 2014 campaign, has one year of experience.

No one can say if the shortages of supplies and the expired contracts hampered the ability of emergency managers to prepare Florida for Irma or delayed the recovery.

However, in the days leading up to the storm, there were accounts of supply shortages and transportation lapses.

The opening of emergency shelters in Miami-Dade County was delayed because staff and supplies didn't show up. In many of them, there were no cots for the elderly and disabled and others awaited delivery of food from the National Guard. At South Dade Middle School there were only 600 meals for the 2,500 people staying at the shelter a day before the storm hit.

Koon said at the time that it was county's job to open shelters and that they didn't need to be stocked with all the supplies to open.

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