Florida is the only tropical state in the United States. While images of beaches and vacation are the first thing that comes to mind, there is also a price to pay by being situated by the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes have battered the state for decades and have incurred billions in damages.
This year, I was fortunate enough that my fellowship period is within the schedule of the 32nd Annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference held at West Palm Beach, Florida. ICMA and the City Government of Tallahassee combined resources to enable me to attend the event and for this I am grateful.
As a an environmental planner who specializes in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation planning, attending the conference has provided me invaluable knowledge to take home and hopefully integrate in my practice, especially in supporting local government units plan towards resiliency.
The United States, in particular the State of Florida, is well-advanced in terms of disasters and emergency management having decades of experience responding to disasters. Lessons from hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Matthew permeated the discussions during the conference, with lessons from Miami to Puerto Rico and the Carribean islands informing the discussions.
“Readiness is Everyone’s Job” is this year’s theme, encouraging the whole-of-society approach in preparing for, responding to and recovering from disasters. The conference has a wide variety of trainings and workshops – I want to attend all of them! I chose the workshops related to tropical meteorology and its applications in preparing for coastal hazards, Puerto Rico’s public health lessons from the dual hurricanes in 2017, selecting safer options for sheltering, mitigation planning and funding, functional and access needs of people with disabilities, and use of unmanned aircraft in disasters presented by the Florida State University Department of Emergency Management faculty who I have had pleasure to meet the week before.
My biggest takeaway from the conference is how, even with resources at its disposal, Florida still continues to find ways to be more resilient. While the focus of the conference is more on management, planning and funding, the people remain at its very core. FEMA administrator Brock Long has also reiterated in his plenary speech how the organization acts as support only, but it is the local government and communities working together and responding first. After all, all disasters are local.
In the Philippines, there is strong emphasis on being proactive than reactive, while encouraging the bottom up approach. Communities are always at the core of disasters and emergencies because we do not have the resources of developed countries. We rely on our neighbors, our local government, and personal preparedness – strengthening partnership, collaboration, and social capital. I hope that my learnings from the conference will be able to contribute towards creating a more resilient system.