© 2023 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Local Emergency Teams Get Close-Up Look at Irma's Fury


After Hurricane Irma slammed into south Florida last month, local governments across the Southeast rushed in people and equipment to begin the rebuild. Among them was a team from Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in northwest Florida.

Irma was also the most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the United States since Katrina in 2005, and the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma that same year.

“We all participate in what’s call a Regional Incident Management Team,” says John Dosh, Escambia County’s Emergency Manager. “We can go in and support EOC operations or we can actually go out in the field and help communities with field operations as well.”

Dosh led a ten-member crew down to south Florida after Irma moved through, with another team from Pensacola following shortly thereafter.

“Originally we went to Clay County and helped with some of the flooding that was occurring from Doctor’s Lake – which is just off the St. John’s River,” Dosh said. “They had three-foot higher [water] than they had ever seen before. We had a lot of people that had to be rescued, and we helped manage the rescue operations over there.”

Upon arrival from the Pensacola area, they saw quite a bit of vegetation damage from the hurricane-force winds, and more flooding as they approached Clay County. After coming in around one o’clock in the morning, their work began at first light.

Credit northescambia.com
Planning meeting held in Escambia County EMA’s command trailer.

“[We] met with the emergency manager there; got tasked with working with the search and rescue teams at a high school that was about ten miles from where the actual flooding was occurring,” said Dosh. “We set up operations there in the high school parking lot and worked with all of them for three and a half days.”

Dosh’s team also brought its Emergency Command Vehicle, which became a platform to bring all of the leaders to one location, to make sure everyone was on the same page of the hymnal and to avoid wasting resources.

Credit northescambia.com
Escambia County EMA Chief John Dosh and Everglades City Clerk Dottie Joiner and her dog Scooter.

“We worked with those agencies that were there,” said Dosh. “Urban Search and Rescue Task Force out of Mississippi; a large contingency of game and fish officers from Louisiana. Florida Fish and Wildlife was there, and they were using a lot of boats. With the National Guard and all the different entities, making sure that we’re managing that and tracking the people and where they’re going.”

Disaster response crews train extensively for events such as post-Hurricane Irma, and Dosh says they all use lessons learned from working previous storms.

“We tend to operate on the Incident Command System, and everyone’s pretty familiar with that in the emergency response community,” Dosh said. “When you come together, it’s a pretty easy integration.”

For now, Dosh says the EscaRosa team will stay put, in case they’re needed at home in the next few days to deal with Tropical Storm Nate, which is expected to reach hurricane strength over the weekend.

“We had been asked to be on standby to go to Puerto Rico,” said Dosh. “But with the conditions of an active tropical season, and [Nate] as a potential threat, we’re going to have to deny or refuse to go over there.”

Currently, Escambia County’s Emergency Ops Center is at Level-3 – the lowest activation. Dosh says the status will be upgraded as needed.

“When we go to a Level-2, that’s predominantly just key agencies that need to be here for specific disasters,” said Dosh. “When we go to Level-1 that’s all agencies, everybody in the room.  All hands on deck.”