‘Storm troopers?’ City committee looks for answers on hurricane prep
Marco Island’s new Ad Hoc Hurricane Review Committee is Jared Grifoni’s baby, and he showed up Wednesday afternoon to see it being born.
The metaphor fits for Grifoni, City Council Chairman, whose wife Elsa recently gave birth to their third child. Last November, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, Grifoni presented a position paper to the council advocating the creation of a committee to take a closer look at Marco’s experience with the storm, which made landfall over the island as a major Category 3 hurricane, to assess what went right and wrong, and how to be better prepared for the next one.
Wednesday was the inaugural meeting for the committee, and their first order of business was to introduce themselves and ekect a chair and vice chair.
Meeting in City Council chambers, with the session broadcast live and available later on the city website, the committee unanimously chose members Jim von Rinteln as chair, and Ron Myers as vice chair. Von Rinteln has a long history with storm and disaster management in Collier County, having overseen construction of the county’s Emergency Operations Center as Operations Coordinator of the Emergency Management Dept. before retiring in 2010. He also served as Regional CEO of the Southern Gulf Region of the American Red Cross, worked on the staff of Congressman Curt Clawson, and spent years as an Army helicopter pilot.
Myers owned two ambulance companies in Ohio, and has served on the county’s public safety and emergency medical advisory boards. Additional committee members include Bill Tilton, Allyson Richards, and Margie Hapke, a public information coordinator or PIO with the county. All are Marco residents.
City recovery coordinator Chris Byrne serves as staff liaison to the committee, and City Clerk Laura Litzan sat in on the meeting, and briefed members on the requirements of the Sunshine Law.
Grifoni spoke to the group, making the point that Irma was the first hurricane to strike the island in the “social media age,” markedly altering the way in which information during and after the storm is disseminated.
As an “ad hoc” committee, the hurricane review group is designed unlike other city boards to “sunset,” or cease to exist, in this case at the end of the year. Before that, they are tasked with two deliverables. The committee is to prepare an interim report for the City Council, to be presented before the beginning of the upcoming hurricane season, laying out urgent or “quick fix” suggestions. And before they sunset, they are to give a more thorough report, providing what von Rinteln called “actionable recommendations to improve the city’s effectiveness in case of a future natural disaster.”
Overall, the committee and Grifoni agreed, Marco Island came through Irma remarkably well, a result of both good management and good luck. Had the 15-foot storm surge that was predicted as a likely occurrence actually materialized, the aftermath would have been different and worse.
“You know Marco Islanders. They’re not leaving, even though you tell them and tell them,” said Litzan. Stressing the importance of communications, Richards suggested a mechanism for those who are leaving to “tell someone where they’re going,” and maybe leave a notice on their front door.
Dealing with a hurricane striking, said von Rinteln, involves four areas – “preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.”
“We may come up with recommendations and protocols from elsewhere. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. Tilton pointed out that while response “on the land side was great,” on the water, he said, it was much more problematic.
The committee didn’t really try to come up with concrete recommendations at this, its initial meeting. Byrne gave each member some “homework,” including copies of the city’s Hurricane Irma after-action report, the county’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, and the Marco Island Civic Association’s hurricane preparedness guide.
They will hold their next meeting on Monday, April 2, and then try to standardize the meeting time on Wednesday afternoons.