By Gil McRae, FWRI Director
All of us occasionally get consumed by the work we do and in doing so it’s easy to lose perspective on the bigger picture. Nothing shakes us out of our mental myopia like a large hurricane threatening on the horizon and Ian certainly was a wake up call on multiple levels. I am happy to report that all our FWRI staff are safe, and our facilities are in good shape statewide. However, several members of our team based in Port Charlotte, and some in the St. Petersburg, Ft. Myers and Naples area sustained damage to their homes ranging from yard debris to total loss. A few will be starting essentially from scratch.
One measure of a high-functioning team is how well it does when faced with adversity. Years of building trust, respect for all team members and promoting open communication pay off in these times and I am extremely proud of how our team came together in response to Ian. While the work continues, dozens of supervisors worked together to ensure that all staff were accounted for using a combination of MyFWC alert, backup phone trees and in person welfare checks carried out by FWC law enforcement. We learned that connectivity challenges impacted communication significantly, and we need to be diligent about maintaining accurate information in backup phone trees and emergency contacts just in case. Laura Tennant maintains the FWRI phone trees here and emergency contacts are stored in people first under your “Personal Info” tab. Please take a few minutes to check each of these and make sure they are up to date. Let Laura know of changes to the phone tree.
You probably know from news reports that FWC was a prominent first responder to areas impacted by Ian. Colonel Young and his team have been deployed since before the storm hit and will likely continue to be present in the area for some time. While the difficult search and rescue work has now concluded and some recovery elements (notably restoration of power and temporary bridge access to barrier islands) have been implemented faster than many expected there is much work to be done. Thousands of displaced, damaged and perhaps derelict vessels both on water and on land need to be dealt with. While our FWC LE Office of Boating and Waterways typically manages these efforts, the magnitude of vessel related issues associated with Ian will require a multi-agency approach.
I also want to emphasize how grateful I am for the support we have gotten so far. Our Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida through the FWC employee assistance fund has provided badly needed cash assistance to many impacted staff, including OPS employees with damage to homes that will impact their ability to put in their normal work hours. The Foundation even leased a few RVs to accommodate staff with severe home damage and no alternative place to stay. FWRI an FWC leadership will continue to work to account for staff who have storm related needs, and I have no doubt that additional assistance from our Foundation will be coming. If you or someone you know is interested in contributing to this fund, you can do so here. FWC maintains a hurricane resources page with useful information for staff here.
Lastly, I want to thank all of you for your offers of assistance to help those impacted by the storm. I know that we have found ways for many to assist, and more opportunities will be coming. I was particularly touched by a note from a recently retired employee, Beth Harman, who rode out the storm in a mobile home/RV park in Arcadia. She and her husband spent 10 hours huddled in a small laundry room while vehicles and cars flooded all around them. After a week of no power and limited road access to her location and despite her concerning predicament, Beth phoned our Charlotte Harbor lab to check on the team. Not only did our team indicate that were fine, but they also wanted to know if they could do anything to help Beth. When Sara Rios and Emily Clancey learned that they desperately needed ice and water they loaded up an FWC vehicle and make their way to Arcadia. Not only were Beth and her husband grateful, but many members of the community brought coolers and the ice and water was quickly snapped up.
I know that Sara and Emily’s caring example is not unique among our team, but it is still worth noting and very much something to be proud of. Thank you for all your efforts for making our team so resilient and outstanding. Stay tuned for more opportunities to assist and please do not hesitate to let me know if you or a coworker need assistance with anything.