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Lee County still working in the wake of Hurricane Irma
April 11, 2018

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It has been just about six months since Hurricane Irma churned through the center of Lee County, and the start of the 2018 hurricane season is eight weeks away.

Many of Lee County's employees still work diligently day-to-day at Irma-related tasks and we still remember the long hours worked during the event.

I remain incredibly impressed by how well our employees handled the storm and continue to handle recovery efforts. I am not alone.

Lee County on March 28 accepted the 2018 National Hurricane Conference Outstanding Achievement Award at the NHC Conference. The award recognizes the county for serving as a model for other organizations in its handling of hurricane-related activities. And in early March, Lee County Emergency Management Director Lee Mayfield and the county received state recognition for Irma-related efforts. The Florida Emergency Preparedness Association presented Mayfield with the Chad Reed Emergency Manager of the Year Award, which is awarded to those who show excellence in their profession.

NHC officials recognized the county's achievement in hurricane-related preparedness in past years as well as 2017, including legislation, public awareness programs, financing mechanisms, sheltering plans, engineering research, warning notification systems and prediction techniques.

"The key word for this award is innovation. We're looking for individuals or organizations who are doing things in a new or better way and who are worthy of emulation by others around the country. The award is not for someone who is simply doing his or her job well," the NHC said in a statement.

It takes the whole community to respond and recover effectively. No one entity can do it all. From individual citizens to the leadership of the Lee Board of County Commissioners, there were so many who helped. Among them: first responders, human services agencies, nonprofits, volunteers and faith-based organizations, utilities, the school district, hospitals, elected officials, municipalities, special districts, and state and federal agencies. Local media outlets played a role, too.

Irma, which made landfall here on Sept. 10, 2017, was unprecedented in its size and threat, and it was not your typical hurricane.

- More than 100 individuals worked in the Emergency Operations Center during Irma, providing support to responders in the field and determining protective actions, including evacuations and sheltering operations.

- About 300,000 people in Lee County were ordered to evacuate, prompting the largest sheltering operation in the county's history.

- About 35,000 people took refuge in 14 shelters. This was the largest sheltered population of any of Florida's 67 counties. There was no loss of life.

- Sheltering efforts included caring for about 3,550 pets of evacuees - also the largest statewide.

After response operations came to a close, recovery from Hurricane Irma began.

- Contractors and Solid Waste workers have collected 1.75 million cubic yards of horticultural waste and nearly 67,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition debris.

- The county has undertaken an effort, in coordination with partners, to remove impediments from waterways to reduce future flooding.

- Long-term recovery efforts continue today by leveraging partnerships with agencies such as the United Way and many others throughout Lee County.

The fact that Lee County received state and national accolades speaks to a thorough and complete effort by our organization to help our community. There is more to be said here - I know many, many organizations helped in ways that are not reflected in this list of accomplishments. I am grateful for our collective efforts.

And, as we think about the achievements and lessons from Irma, be assured that Lee County governments' employees are prepared for whatever challenges the future may bring.

Roger Desjarlais is the manager of Lee County.

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