Understanding the value of water
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In this issue
Massive restoration of headwaters of the St. Johns River is completed.
Cost-share program helps farmers innovate and conserve water.
2016 marks a decade of work in the St. Johns River’s lower basin.
District staff from all work groups are represented on the district’s emergency operations team and coordinate year-round. Most recently, the team participated in a statewide hurricane drill.
District prepared for emergencies of all kinds
Training and preparations ongoing, year-round
On a typical balmy afternoon in the Sunshine State, it’s easy to forget disaster can strike at any time. Think hurricanes, floods, wildfires and even the occasional tornado.
St. Johns River Water Management District staff are experts at preparing for disasters.
“Training and experience among our key staff ensures the district is able to provide services during emergencies,” says St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “Whether we’re setting up mobile command posts to keep lines of communication open or operating water control structures to prevent flooding in the Upper St. Johns River Basin, we’re ready for whatever comes our way.”
Florida’s five water management districts have been state emergency management system partners since 1993. The district adheres to an emergency management plan to ensure all agency departments work like a well-oiled machine during emergency situations.
“Our plan establishes a system for an incremental increase in the dedication of resources, based on magnitude and severity of a disaster, to effectively respond to and recover from a disaster,” says Steven R. Miller, the district’s emergency coordinating officer. “Responsibilities and emergency operating procedures are developed to cross division, bureau and office lines so as to ensure a responsible, effective response in preserving organizational integrity.”
Wildfires, not surprisingly, are the district’s most frequent emergency.
The first line of defense from wildfires is prescribed burning. Prescribed fires reduce the risk of a wildfire starting and they reduce the intensity of wildfires when they occur because prescribed fires burn off organic fuels. Additionally, the same personnel, skills and equipment used to prescribe burn can all be applied to suppress wildfires.
The district’s mettle has also been tested by many hurricanes. During the stormy stampede of 2004 — which included hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne — district staff methodically ensured employee safety, addressed flooding issues and modified permit rules for a beleaguered public. Hurricane Jeanne peeled the roof off a portion of the district’s service center in Palm Bay. Staff improvised by relocating equipment and work stations to another part of the building until repairs were made. Throughout that tumultuous summer and fall, staff weathered flooding emergencies, damage to buildings and structures, and downed trees on district lands.
In areas along the St. Johns River, particularly in Seminole and Volusia counties, the river can overflow its banks and swell beyond flood stages. During these scenarios, the district coordinates information on flood response and sends employees as representatives to the statewide emergency operations center to assist in answering questions from local governments. The district also works closely with local governments by issuing emergency orders that allow pumping of water from flooded neighborhoods.
The populations of Brevard and Indian River counties are protected from flooding from the St. Johns River by the Upper St. Johns River Basin Project, a semi-structural system of four water management areas, four marsh conservation areas and two marsh restoration areas covering approximately 166,500 acres in Indian River and Brevard counties. Maintaining lines of communications
Each year, the district’s Office of Information Technology (IT) engages in a disaster recovery exercise. The purpose is to ensure the district’s critical technological systems can be returned to operational conditions within a few days.
Each year, IT acts out a different scenario for getting systems up and running. Some years, IT will rebuild the system from the ground up in an empty conference room at district headquarters; other times, the office might opt to set up at one of the service centers. This year, the exercise unfolded at the district’s Palm Bay Service Center.
“Everyone thinks of hurricanes and tornadoes when they think about disasters in Florida,” says IT Director Kevin Brown. “However, disasters can come from many events, like when a small plane once crashed into the parking lot of a nearby Lowe’s. We want to be prepared for any scenario.”
Reaching out to the public
Each year, the district’s Office of Communications implements hurricane season outreach to the public, issuing news releases, posting storm-related information on its website at www.sjrwmd.com and distributing an electronic newsletter, Water News, to approximately 6,000 stakeholders (which includes local, state and federal elected officials, and city and county staff). Intergovernmental coordinators with the district’s Governmental Affairs Program assist local governments and provide staffing as needed at the Emergency Operation Center in Tallahassee.