Community Workshop to Feature Personal Experiences and Lessons Learned from Hurricanes

A hurricane approaching Florida from space.

A hurricane approaching Florida from space.

(October 23, 2018) – Florida mayors, first responders and others involved in storm preparation and recovery will detail their personal experiences and the key lessons learned from Hurricane Irma and Maria at USF St. Petersburg’s Initiative on Coastal Adaptation and Resilience (iCAR) Workshop.

Taking place October 30-31 at the University, the annual Workshop brings together elected officials, scientists, law enforcement officers, neighborhood association representatives and those working on coastal vulnerability and resilience issues. The overall goal is to create a Tampa Bay better able to endure and bounce back better from disasters and extreme weather events.

Members of the public are strongly encouraged to attend. In fact, conversations with communities throughout the region since Hurricane Irma informed the Workshops’ principal theme.

“Because the season last year was so tough on the region both physically and emotionally, hurricanes is what was on everyone’s mind and all they wanted to talk about,” said Dr. Rebecca Johns, Associate Professor of Geography at USFSP and member of iCAR’s Executive Committee. “We decided we needed to do something to evaluate how our community responded to Hurricane Irma.”

“And of course, this conversation seems just as timely with Hurricane Michael just impacting our state,” added Johns.

Kicking off the event is a leadership panel discussion between the Mayors of St. Petersburg, St. Augustine, Sarasota and Naples. Each will speak on how they led their communities in preparing for and weathering a major hurricane.

“We want these mayors to share their experience with the public and to find out what they learned, what was the biggest challenge they faced and what they would do differently the next time,” said Barnali Dixon, the Principle Investigator and Director of iCAR.

Another panel assembles first responders who were on the ground for Hurricane Irma and Maria. It is one of several panels that highlight individuals’ personal experiences during extreme storms around topics as diverse as law enforcement, infrastructure, emotional well-being and storm recovery.

Workshop organizers hope that in addition to hearing hair raising, on-the-ground stories and recommendations for what cities can do better the next storm, what will resonate is the varying impacts of hurricanes on communities. For example, socio-economic access to information and resources will affect how certain communities prepare for an approaching storm and how quickly they can bounce back and return to a sense of normalcy.

“Everybody will be impacted by hurricanes, but the impact of hurricanes will be felt and experienced differently by different people,” said Dixon.

She added that one of the major missions of iCAR is to ensure everyone is prepared for disasters, regardless of social or economic background.

Flooding of the Shore Acres neighborhood in St. Petersburg, FL.

Flooding of the Shore Acres neighborhood in St. Petersburg, FL.

“We all have to prepare for such disasters as well as the impacts from climate change, but we may not be able to prepare the same way. So we are working to customize access to information and resources.”

Coming out of the Workshop, a summary of lessons learned from hurricanes by different sectors of government and a series of recommendations will be developed to inform decisions and adopt policies that improve resilience to extreme storms and longer-term changes, such as sea-level rise. A series of community talks will also be organized around Tampa Bay to generate greater awareness on these lessons and further the conversation.

“Last year, there was a lot of thinking on how different communities can build resilience, so when a hurricane hits again we are better prepared to respond both physically and socially,” said Johns. “We hope to continue that thinking at this Workshop and afterwards.”

Tampa Bay is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. A World Bank Report ranked the area in the top 10 of coastal cities worldwide at greatest flood risks due to the combination of extreme storms and sea level rise. The area is also socially susceptible. Many people in the region work in the service and tourism industry. According to Dixon, those businesses and their employees are most affected by loss of income from such disasters.

Over the last three years, the iCAR workshop has brought together hundreds of participants representing government, industry, community groups and science and environmental organizations. More information about the workshop can be found at: http://www.usfsp.edu/icar/icar-2018/.