Keeping Our Community Safe and Resilient
Commissioner Hal Valeche
Most of us likely equate emergency management with our annual hurricane season, and that has definitely been a major focus of this county division within the Department of Public Safety. This year, we have gained a painful lesson in another natural hazard, the pandemic.
While the event of a hurricane from advisories, warnings, landfall and recovery may require the activation of our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for a period of a few weeks, the Covid-19 emergency has spanned months, with ongoing long-term prevention, testing and recovery efforts that will take us into an unknown future with this new virus.
Palm Beach County’s Executive Policy Group (EPG) leads the EOC Activation Organization through the County Administrator, Verdenia Baker who also serves as Incident Commander. The EPG includes the County Mayor, County Administration senior staff, Public Safety Director, County Attorney, Emergency Management Director, Sheriff, Fire Rescue Administrator, and the Florida Department of Health Palm Beach County Director. They also serve as liaisons to the County Commissioners, the Courts, Constitutional Officers, the School Board, our state and federal Legislative Delegation, and to the municipalities.
Emergency Management plans include responses to three main categories of hazards: Natural - Severe Weather, Floods, Agricultural Pests and Diseases, Fires, Communicable Diseases; Technological – Transportation, Hazardous Materials, Nuclear Power Plant, Dike Failure; and, Human Caused - Domestic Security, Workplace/School Violence, and Mass Migration.
The 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season was above average and 2020 is forecast to be similar, with a projected 16 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 4 hurricanes greater than a category 3.
With oceans warming, the intensity of hurricanes is increasing. Last year, Hurricane Dorian, a category 5 and the fourth named storm of the 2019 season made landfall on September 1 in Elbow Cay, Bahamas with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph. Dorian impacted the outer islands of the Northern Bahamas and devastated Grand Bahama Island and its surrounding islands. After two days, it turned north, sparing Palm Beach County of its hurricane force winds, with only the outer bands brushing South Florida.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, 900 evacuees arrived in Palm Beach County via the Paradise Cruise Line, needing housing and services. Those who did not have local family or friends were taken to a triage shelter at the PBC Therapeutic Center in John Prince Park. From there, evacuees transitioned to temporary shelters. We assisted 155 evacuees.
Many Palm Beach County residents and businesses have relationships, properties and business partners in the Bahamas, and there was a strong push to help our neighbors in the Bahamas recover. Many citizens, businesses, churches, municipalities and non-profit organizations mobilized in response. County departments and agencies participated by conducting a relief donation drive contributing 14 truckloads and 500 pallets of supplies to the effort.
Emergency Management has continued to plan and improve its emergency response systems, improving outreach for the special needs shelter application process, expanding emergency information outlets in multiple languages, increasing shelter staffing, and expanding on our recovery plans.
Nearly 5,300 county personnel are enlisted upon activation to man the emergency operations center, provide public information, work shelters, and inspect and respond to damages in recovery efforts, and our employees have truly stepped up to the plate, while handling responsibilities to protect their own families.
This year, the challenge has doubled with addressing hurricane season accompanied by a pandemic, and shelter staffing and facilities may need to increase further due to COVID-19. Emergency Management has analyzed this scenario to develop complementary strategies. This includes evaluating the decision process for evacuation; developing contingency plans for congregate and non-congregate shelter options; providing additional screening and sanitizing efforts at all shelters; enhancing spacing and more frequent cleaning of shelters; evaluating staffing levels and available resources; and, enhancing shelter capacity for the special needs population and pet shelters.
The Board of County Commissioners plays an important role to reinforce the EOC actions and priorities. We assist with federal declarations and work with lawmakers to activate FEMA programs, and advocate for federal assistance and reimbursement. We also disseminate public information to keep our residents advised and prepared to take protective actions.
As we do each year, we cannot stress enough the importance of planning for disasters and we encourage all businesses and residents to make this a priority. It may surprise you to know that 60% of households lack disaster readiness. Everyone has a duty to be prepared. You need to know if you live in an evacuation area, and if so, where you will evacuate to within the county. If you are not in an evacuation area, you are encouraged to shutter and shelter in place. Make a kit, and keep it stocked. Consider what arrangements you need to make for your pets or loved ones with special needs. You can find a wealth of helpful information at
As always, if there is any way I can assist you, please contact me at (561) 355-2201 or by email at
. Remember, wash your hands, physically distance, and be safe and prepared.