Twenty-five emergency management professionals from 13 counties, the Salvation Army, and the Florida Division of Emergency Management made Flagler County their temporary home as they immersed themselves in the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association (FEPA) Intermediate Academy – hosted by the county.
“Typically, the academy is held at the Florida National Guard Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, but FEPA is piloting new curriculum and there were scheduling conflicts, so I volunteered our support, as it also gave us a chance to showcase Flagler County’s programs and capabilities,” said Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord, who is serving his ninth term on the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association Board of Directors. “This academy is so important because it better prepares Florida’s emergency managers for the future.”
Polk County Emergency Manager Billy Abernathy led the academy with the support of instructors from several counties – including Ryan Simpson, and Nealon Joseph from Flagler, both graduates of the academy – the Florida Division of Emergency Management, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“The great thing about this academy – besides the core curriculum we teach – is the camaraderie that develops,” Abernathy said. “A lot of the people participating are new to their positions. When something happens, they will be working with other counties and agencies. This not only gives them a taste of what this is like, but they are already building meaningful relationships with people they will rely upon in the future. A lot of the smaller counties have one-, two-, or maybe three-person (emergency management) teams. You can’t do it by yourself.”
Brittany Brooks, an emergency management planner from Hernando County, has been on the job for just four months.
“My bachelor’s degree is in Public Safety and Emergency Management,” she said. “School provides the theory – the bones – but here we get the meat and potatoes. The presenters have been outstanding, and there are so many people from so many areas that you get exposure to all their different (location-based) issues and capabilities. Everything makes more sense now.”
Participants have been living “on campus” since Sunday and will finish at noon on Friday. The course includes more than 60 hours of classroom instruction endured in 12- to 14-hour days to simulate real life emergency operations, deployment, and response.
They trained Thursday afternoon at Princess Place Preserve using a Flagler County customized GIS-based phone app – powered by ESRI’s “Quick Capture” – for live tracking of individual search-and-rescue members, hazards reporting, and accurate data sharing that was instantaneously transmitted back to the home base.
“This was scaled down from the exercise we did in January with the Sheriff’s Office and Fire Rescue, but it is an excellent live application to get them all working together,” Lord said. “Earlier in the week, they did a literal tabletop exercise in ‘Happy Town’ with small buildings and Matchbox-type vehicles. Teamwork and team building is key.”
Besides the GIS division assisting with the Princess Place training, several other departments, divisions, and entities were key in ensuring the academy was possible: Transportation, Facilities, Parks, Tourism, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, and many emergency management volunteers.
“We were able to do this at our EOC (Emergency Operations Center) because we have a proper dormitory, shower facilities, and a kitchen,” Lord said. “This also gave us an opportunity to exercise and test all these facilities and our related procedures as if it were a real disaster. We’ve not activated the EOC when we’ve had people stay here for a full week in a very long time. This was really a win-win for everyone.”