More than 1,500 first-responders converged on Fort Lauderdale Sunday to discuss unique lessons learned from the 2012 hurricane season, which spawned Superstorm Sandy and punishing Hurricane Debby, among other tropical storm systems.
The phalanx of emergency personnel were drawn to the 27th annual Governor's Hurricane Conference, which is the largest storm-fighting forum in the nation. The 48 training sessions and 52 workshops, which began Sunday, make the Governor's Hurricane Conference the premier event in storm training and education involving tropical events, said Ann Rowe-McMullen, conference media coordinator.
"This year's training sessions, workshops and general session will not only look at lessons learned from last year's tropical events, but will also focus on innovative methods for 'Moving Forward in Changing Times,' " she said by phone while settling into her conference hotel room. "We offer cutting-edge sessions to expand our capacity as a state to effectively respond to a hurricane event and we invite our colleagues from other vulnerable states and nations to share and learn with us. Working together gives us the greatest hope of successfully learning from the past and adequately planning and preparing for the future."
Sheriff Brad Steube of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office said he sent two representatives to the conference to ensure emergency communication coordination in advance of the necessity for it.
"It's a good idea to spend time with folks in Tallahassee to get an idea of what they are thinking," Steube said. "We have a mutual aid agreement with all the
sheriffs in the state that we send personnel to assist them when they need it and they send personnel to assist us if we need it. It's a great arrangement."
MSO first-responders have been sent to Alabama and other states north of Florida, Steube said, but were not required anywhere else in-state last storm season. Even so, the mutual-aid arrangement was reinforced by other cooperative ventures.
"The thing about it is the mutual-aid agreement is not just for storm response," Steube said. "We just finished an operation where all the sheriffs were working together on Operation Dry Spring (to reduce underage alcohol sales during spring break). We do a number of things together. Just to be able to work together and know you can rely on assets from another part of the state is a good thing."
Gov. Rick Scott will be at the conference but the real showstoppers are famed Colorado State University hurricane forecasters William Gray and Phil Klotsbach. The Gray-Klotzbach team, set to speak Wednesday, forecasts "enhanced activity" this storm season stirred by warm tropical Atlantic waters and the lack of an El Niño weather pattern.
The forecast includes:
18 named storms or 50 percent more than the average of 12;
nine hurricanes or 38 percent more than the average of 6.5; and
four major hurricanes or twice the average of two per season.
"We anticipate an above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the United States coastline and in the Caribbean," the CSU weather report predicted.
Other high-profile disaster specialists asked to appear include Administrator Craig Fugate of the Federal Emergency Management Administration and Director Bryan Koon of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. They will hold a joint press conference at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Other invited speakers include: Richard Reed, senior vice president for disaster cycle services, The American Red Cross, Lt. Col. Jerome Hatfield, deputy superintendent of Homeland Security, New Jersey State Police; Director Rick Knabb, National Hurricane Center; and Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs.
Participants include emergency managers and personnel, state and federal volunteer agencies, business and industry representatives, along with health and medical professionals from around the world.
The event will be held at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center at 1950 Eisenhower Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale through Friday.
The 2012 Governor's Hurricane Conference focused on what had been learned in the 20 years since 1992's Hurricane Andrew. The conference examined the history of emergency management in Florida and technological advances and societal changes over the past quarter-century.
This year's conference will focus on lessons learned from 2012, Rowe-McMullen said in a press release.
"Each of these storms presented unique challenges that forced emergency managers and other stakeholders to respond unlike they had in the past," she said. "For example, with the sheer size of Sandy, the glancing blows of Isaac and Sandy, the concentrated flooding of Isaac and Debby and the recovery challenges of events that did not result in a presidential disaster declaration, Florida's emergency management system was repeatedly tested and Florida's emergency response community stepped up to meet the challenges both at home and by helping other regions serve the people of their states in time of need."