Overtown Communication and Emergency Preparedness Town Hall

On May 19th, 2018 CLEO hosted a town hall for the community of Overtown as part of our Creating Climate Connections program. This was a follow-up to our listening session and our community workshop held the month before. 

During the listening session and the workshop, the themes that emerged were communicationand emergency preparedness.Mel Ferguson, a member of the Overtown community, help co-facilitate the event. We had presentations from Miami Dade County’s Office of Emergency Management, on lessons learned from Irma and new initiatives; as well as a presentation from Susan Jacobson, presenting her sea level rise app Eyes on the Rise, as well as the King Tide calendar app, looking at King Tides and flooding in neighborhoods. 

The goal of the town hall was to have an open discussion about how county and city can better serve communities like Overtown, when it comes to disseminating messages and getting crucial supplies out to community members in the event of emergencies. We also wanted elected officials to hear directly from the community on what they felt were gaps in city and county approaches to helping residents during emergencies. While several invited and confirmed city and county guests did not attend, many questions were answered. 

·     An update on Booker T Washington High School was given, in regards to its availability as an evacuation center. Since last year, the leaky roof has been fixed. In the case of an emergency, the school should be a functional evacuation center. (The question as to why the community was alerted only last minute to its closure before Irma in 2017, was left unanswered). 

·     Information dissemination and communication was a big topic: 

-       Cell phone apps have often been discussed as a way to compliment other methods that city and county share information. Most people own a cell phone; therefore, apps can be a good way of reaching the masses. County Office of Emergency Management mentioned that they are in the process of developing phone apps to improve emergency communication, but they do not have a date as to when these apps would be ready. This year, the county is mailing out the 2018 Hurricane Guides to all county residents with an addressAn improvement from last year. 

-       County is also trying to work more closely with the media, to avoid problems that occurred last year before Irma. For example, when the county decided to open more shelters, which is done in phases, the media leaked information about what shelters would be open before the county had confirmed these. This created chaos and mistrust when residents were showed up at shelters that were not open nor staffed.  

-       A question regarding evacuation was asked. Last year, evacuation orders were given to residents living in certain zones. However, the orders mentioned that only “parts of certain zones” needed to evacuate. For those living in the zones where only certain sections needed to evacuate, exact details were not shared and therefore many were uncertain if they should or shouldn’t leave. The city and county must be clearer in their orders, to avoid unnecessary evacuations, panic and confusion. The county official present mentioned that this was an area where they were trying to improve.  

-       Someone asked about whether or not 3-1-1 had Spanish and Kreyol speakers. The answer is yes. But there are questions about how efficient the language services are and whether wait times may be longer. 

 -       Overtown was left behind in terms of getting basic services like food and waterduring Irma. A resident asked about how this is being addressed?County official mentioned thatpoints of distribution (POD) should kick in, theoretically, when needs are expressed. Again, the app to help disseminate this information as to when and where those POD are open, is still being developed and not yet ready. In the meantime, residents must rely on radio, TV, newspapers & social media to get their information. 

Biggest Takeaways

 ·     There need to be more informal conversations between city/county and community members. There’s a disconnect between what communities need and what is happening on the ground; how and when information is being communicated.  

·     We must start thinking ahead when it comes to hurricane season. The kits that CLEO handed out were intended to help residents begin to think about preparedness. And to help them start building their own kits. We must think about these issues months before the season starts so we are not caught off guard.

·     While city and county offer some relief when it comes to hurricanes, such as sheltering before, during and after emergencies, citizens have to start building more community relationships among themselves; becoming their own advocates. Taking courses like CERT. or mobilizing each other’s neighbors. Just getting to know our neighbors can be really helpful in a time of need. We need to build community networks that make sense.  

·     While some apps are in development, citizens can sign up for Miami-Dade Emergency Alerts that will let them know through email or texts about public safety issues, recommended public protective actions, or other emergency information. This can be done by texting: “Join MDSMS” to 34292

·     Miami’s SAFE app lets users find open and available evacuation centers and Disaster Assistance Centers ahead of a major storm. This must be downloaded. 

·     Now is a good time to register any family member or friend or neighbor for the Emergency Evacuation & Assistance Program (EEAP)who might need special attention in the event of an emergency or an evacuation. Registration can be done by calling 3-1-1 or by filling out an application here in English, Spanish or Kreyol: http://www.miamidade.gov/fire/eeap.asp

·     It was also suggested that more EM personnel attend community meetings to bridge the gap and give out the applications to those in need, as many are not aware of the EEAP program.