The 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season has begun, and UF/IFAS Extension is preparing for all potential emergencies. Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center are predicting a season similar to last year’s, with 9 to 15 named storms, 2 to 4 of which may turn out to be major hurricanes. When you recall that last year’s season brought us hurricanes Florence and Michael, you can understand why we take our disaster preparation very seriously. UF/IFAS Extension is constantly improving our response to hurricanes and other natural disasters in order to better serve people of Florida when they’re most in need of up-to-the-minute, research-based information and critical support. This year will be no exception. Though we’re still dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Michael, faculty and staff across the state have been busy preparing for what’s next.
Florida SART Planning Conference
The Florida State Agricultural Response Team’s Planning Conference was held May 29-31. The statewide forum is an opportunity for emergency management specialists and experts from multiple agencies to share resources, lessons learned and best practices for integrating animal care and agriculture into disaster planning. Saqib Mukhtar and Colleen Larson were part of a panel on preparing cattle operations for natural disasters. Anita Neal presented on how UF/IFAS Extension can help during disasters. Matt Hersom gave a keynote address on how to respond to animal disease and farm-level biosecurity issues.
Mental Health First Aid Training
During the SART conference, Heidi Radunovich and Angie Lindsey were joined by Lynn Grattan of the University of Maryland to present on a new training program to assist emergency responders with recognizing and coping with emotional and mental health during and after disasters. In Extension we talk a lot about community resiliency, but it’s often overlooked that the personal resiliency of emergency responders and people in affected communities is just as important. The UF/IFAS PIE Center has partnered with Family, Youth and Community Sciences faculty and Florida SART to present a series of workshops on Mental Health First Aid training. The aim of the workshops is to provide Extension agents, first responders and others with the skills needed to address mental health issues following disasters. Three workshops have already been conducted in Marion, Osceola and Pinellas counties; another will be held in Charlotte County June 19-20, and there will be more to follow.
State Relief Programs for the Panhandle
In the Panhandle, planting season is underway, but farmers, ranchers, foresters and commercial fishermen are facing an uncertain future. It’s been more than eight months since Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane, causing over $1.4 billion in losses to forestry and agricultural production. Fortunately, a federal disaster relief package that includes $4.5 billion in relief for agriculture-related losses was just signed into law June 7 which will help cover some losses and enable producers to begin to rebuild their operations. In May, UF/IFAS Extension Jackson County, the Florida Farm Bureau and the Small Business Development Center hosted a meeting to talk with northwest Florida producers about two state assistance programs recently activated by Governor DeSantis. The Disaster Bridge Loan Program provides up to $200,000 per eligible applicant at 0% interest for up to two years in counties affected by Hurricane Michael. (The deadline to apply for the program is June 30.) The Sales Tax Refund Program offers a rebate of sales tax for construction or fencing supplies purchased October 11-June 30.
A Disaster Resources page (https://extadmin.ifas.ufl.edu/disaster)
has been added to the new UF/IFAS Extension Administration website. This will be a one-stop shop for UF/IFAS Extension personnel to find information about preparation, mitigation, and recovery for hurricanes and other natural disasters. Several Extension faculty have been developing disaster response sites and compiling lists of useful resources, and this page puts them all together in one place for immediate use.
The site includes:
- Templates for Continuation of Operations Plans (COOPs)
- Emergency communications sheets
- Damage assessment forms (coming soon)
- Useful apps
- Training information
- Links to resources for clientele
- Weather alerts
More information will be added in the coming weeks. Visit the Extension Administration website and look under Communications or Resources. If there are resources that need to be added to the site, please contact Angie Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-273-3552.
The 2019 Hurricane Season has just begun, and we will be adding more resources and updates in the coming weeks.
Natural disasters are the test we wish we didn’t have to study for, but every year, we improve our planning, learn from past experiences and increase our ability to respond effectively to emergencies. I’m hoping we’ll catch break this year so that we can continue to recover from Michael and Irma, but in any event, we are ready for whatever comes our way.