Hurricane Dorian Updates - Palm Trees In a Storm

A Glimpse at Emergency Operations Center with UF/IFAS Extension Agent

HIGHLANDS COUNTY, Fla. — As weather experts reported of Hurricane Dorian’s forecasting challenges, emergency operation centers (EOC) in the path of the storm started assembling earlier than usual.

While you may think all the action taking place at EOC’s throughout the state in preparation has revolved only around first responders, county employees and elected officials, think again.

Those same EOC’s are also staffed by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) personnel.

Meet Laurie Hurner, a UF/IFAS Extension Director in Highlands County.

While EOCs exist as the physical or virtual meeting place designed to support emergency response, business continuity and crisis communication activities, it takes a village of local folks behind the scenes to serve as the liaisons getting the right information to the right places to those in need.

Hurner, one of the EOC regulars from UF/IFAS in her county, wears many hats and when disaster strikes or an impending hurricane is on the way, she has a seat waiting for her at the EOC.

With a population just over 100,000, Highlands County is predominantly agricultural with a growing season that takes place mostly in the winter. Additionally, a good portion of the non-agricultural population are short term winter residents. This presents potential challenges for EOC officials who are not familiar with the agricultural industry or the demographics.

Hurner, a fifth-generation Floridian from a citrus-growing family, meets those challenges with ease. Her agricultural background along with her expertise as a UF/IFAS Extension agent over the years has made her an invaluable resource.

“I mainly answer questions inside the EOC from fellow workers from a variety of agencies and local departments,” said Hurner.

7 a.m. briefing at the Highlands County EOC during Hurricane Dorian.

When the EOC is engaged, she serves as a liaison of information and collaborates with various county departments, state agencies, and national organizations such as the local sheriff’s office, school board, the county health department, the National Guard, and Highlands County Veterans Affairs just to name a few.

Some of the questions posed include: What are the major agricultural crops in the county and what does flooding do to those crops? How does a hurricane affect the citrus crop and can you explain the stage of the citrus crop right now? What will this storm do to greening disease spread?

Hurner wears many hats before, during and after a crisis in her county, but as a UF/IFAS Extension agent she and her counterparts throughout the state provide a vital service with a bountiful of information.

“Extension agents have a specific area of expertise, but they need to know a little about a lot of other things,” added Hurner. “If we don’t know the answer to a specific question, we know where to find it. Our community needs to feel very secure in the fact that Highlands County Extension has a tremendous amount of knowledge, experience and expertise to share with our community.”

For information on hurricane preparation and recovery, please link to http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/news/2019/08/30/uf-ifas-hurricane-resources-for-the-media/, or check out our UF/IFAS blog. For information on your local extension, please check out http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media.

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