USA: Planning, training, redundancy: How Panama City, FL is flexing its preparedness 'muscle memory'
By Katie Pyzyk
The city's assistant manager Jared Jones shared lessons learned after Hurricane Michael rocked the Florida Panhandle in 2018.
Smrt cities dive: What were Panama City's main takeaways regarding its preparedness for Hurricane Michael?
Jared Jones: [...] We put our emergency action plan into effect the evening before the storm... We had a commission meeting the day before the storm and after that a brief emergency action meeting, saying it looks like this is going to be a training opportunity so let's learn everything we can from our emergency action plan.
Each one of these disasters is unique so solutions are innovative at their core. The city manager was able to come up with some innovative solutions fast. The five comfort stations we did allowed people to connect to Wi-Fi — Verizon was generous enough to bring out a mobile cell tower for each one of those... We knew in order to avoid population flight and a public health crisis, we had to provide in some way, shape or form for our citizenry. [The comfort stations] offered showers and food and water and ice... There was a need [for us] to be able to provide communications, water and sewer — those basic human needs. That was the best and most cost effective solution at that time. Those were in operation for several weeks after the storm until we got water and sewer back online.
You mentioned using this incident as a training opportunity. In which areas did you find trainable moments?
Jones: Redundant communication would be one of them. As far as a training exercise, it would be how do cities communicate their needs to the counties when communications are down, and how do the cities communicate to the state? How do we train on those redundant systems of communication is the bottom line... I think Bay County and Panama City did a very good job coordinating with each other.
As a wholesale, we want to train our employees on the National Incident Management System and all the free and advanced training out there for emergency operations and disaster training that FEMA provides. We're looking into that now to train our staff... and do those trainings annually. We're looking at doing internal roundtables just for our city, whether it be natural disaster or a manmade... we want to respond to that and immediately know who's in charge and the command system that those methodologies provide.