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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

"It is not vital that all of those things be in place," he said Sept. 8, as Miami's shelters were filling to capacity. "The vital thing is they are in a hardened storm shelter."

At Cross City in Dixie County, 90 miles southeast of Tallahassee, June Richardson, an elementary school cafeteria worker, took refuge in a middle-school shelter in one of the poorest communities in the state after power had been out in her home for more than four days. But the shelter had no food.

"They gave you a bottle of water and a bag of potato chips," Richardson said.

Collier County opened 28 shelters before the storm made landfall in Florida, but at Gulf Coast High School in Naples on Sept. 10 there were no cots or beds for evacuees, "just seats," BuzzFeed reported.

After the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, the Florida Legislature "found that improved logistical staging and warehouse capacity for supplies and equipment would help ensure adequate supplies and equipment would be available and accessible for responding to disasters," the December 2016 audit report said.

So the state built the State Logistics Response Center, the SLRC, in Orlando and used it to stockpile supplies and equipment needed in a disaster. But in audit after audit in recent years, inspectors warned that haphazard management of supplies, poor record keeping and inadequate preparation threatened the state's ability to respond to a natural disaster.

Although FEMA provides assistance to Florida in response to a hurricane, "FEMA expects Florida to be self-sufficient for the first 72 hours," the report said.

Auditors discovered that the warehouse was not only short of supplies, it was also wasting money. More than half -- 58 percent -- of the warehouse space remained empty, while only 14 of the 27 office spaces were regularly used, the audit said. Auditors estimated the unused space was costing taxpayers $1.6 million a year.

Moscoso said by fast-tracking purchases, the state was able to gather enough stockpile before Irma hit Florida.

"We could not fit any more supplies,'' he said. "Many counties returned large quantities of these items to both FEMA and the State of Florida."

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