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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

The auditors, however, spelled out other problems:

–– Shelters: Auditors found an inadequate stockpile of food, water and cots needed for emergency shelters. While the state relies on the American Red Cross and Salvation Army to manage and provide supplies to shelters, auditors found "these entities may not have enough resources to support a large disaster."

"While it is unclear whether the Division is expected to provide shelter supplies, the Division has a stockpile of shelter supplies," the audit said.

There was no sign that emergency managers considered the stockpile sufficient, it said. "The Division recently had a contract in place to obtain additional cots if needed in a disaster, but that contract has expired."

–– Equipment: The contract with forklift operators to unload supplies from trucks at the distribution centers had "expired and has not been renewed."

–– Water: The state has a contract with vendors to supply water and ice to the logistics center in Orlando, but it "lacks specific terms requiring delivery within 24 hours." A backup contract from a vendor to deliver water and ice "was not renewed." As of May 2016, the logistics center had stored only enough water for 215,633 people for three days, but auditors said FEMA recommends each survivor of a disaster must have one gallon of water every day.

–– Meals: The state has a contract with a vendor to supply 333,334 meal kits, containing three meals per kit. But an inspection in May 2016 found there were no kits on hand. After inspectors conducted a surprise review, one truckload of food kits was delivered.

–– Transportation: Counties rely on the state to transport supplies to points of distribution within 24 hours after the storm, but auditors found "the Division does not currently have trucks on hand" and the state's contract for delivery of supplies and equipment stored at the logistics center "has not been renewed."

The Division of Emergency Management was unable to say how much more the last-minute supplies cost the state through emergency contracts and FEMA purchases than it would have had the state stockpiled more supplies before the storm. Auditors said the agency lacked an analysis that showed which approach was the most cost-efficient.

Auditors also noted the lack of clear direction and oversight, saying they were "unable to identify clear expectations of the division to provide supplies and equipment to shelters." They also questioned the wisdom of the state relying on vendors to supply water after a disaster, instead of ordering it and stockpiling it in advance.

This was not the first time auditors warned of deficiencies and sloppy record keeping.

In a January 2014 audit, the agency's inspector general found "the Division had not established written policies and procedures specifically governing the management of the disaster supplies and equipment warehoused at the SLRC."

It said supplies could disappear and there would be no accounting.

"Without a completed accountable property form, it may not be possible to enforce accountability for damaged, lost or stolen property," auditors wrote.

The Division of Emergency Management responded by blaming staff shortages. "Division management stated that, because of limited staff, policies and procedures governing the management of disaster supplies and equipment had not been established," the 2014 audit said.

Auditors made a similar complaint a year later when a February 2015 audit of inventory found no documentation of some supplies and, when items went missing, the division did not consistently report it "or file reports with the appropriate law enforcement agency."

"Without a completed accountable property form, it may not be possible to enforce accountability for damaged, lost or stolen property," auditors wrote.

Another audit, completed June 28, 2017, found inadequate oversight of a program that allows DEM to hire temporary employees to aid in recovery efforts. The "reservists" are paid $16 to $18 an hour, with overtime paid at a rate of 1 1/2 times the regular rate. They are required to complete a five-part online training source provided by FEMA and learn how to use a special credit card given to employees while traveling during the emergency.

Auditors found that some reservists trained but never showed up when called to duty. Others "lost equipment and had equipment destroyed" and were never held accountable. A better arrangement, auditors said, would be to better coordinate with volunteer organizations.

Moscoso said the Division of Emergency Management is working to "utilize resources appropriately to improve the quality of reservists sent out into the field." It is also "collaborating with FEMA to create an analysis to determine if new requirements for the stockpile are needed." The agency says it will now have the analysis completed by December.

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(Miami Herald reporter Kyra Gurney and Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.)

(c)2017 Miami Herald

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