Our First Disaster Drill – Remembering Hurricane Irma September, 2017

As the 2020 Coronavirus- COVID-19 pandemic rushes toward us ready to engulf all in its path, we look back to our first agency wide disaster recovery, and are comforted by our confidence to overcome this days’ newest challenge.

On September 10, 2017, we all watched carefully as Hurricane Irma made her path towards us. We ticked off our checklists like we have many time before. Emergency supplies and water at each location, check. Contact parents, guardians, support coordinators, and APD to communicate our plans to stay in place throughout the storm, check. Contact all staff to finalize who will do what and when, check. However, one location was a little more at risk of electricity loss than the other locations. So with an abundance of care, we made the decision to move the men of Ralph Road (group home).

Thank goodness for cell phones! Our supervisors were able to speak with one another to keep things moving as the men of Ralph Road relocated to Heron Circle. The women of Heron Circle understood and generously volunteered to relocate to Dawn Drive (our biggest and highest elevated home). The men of Dawn Drive welcomed all. The staff stayed calm, reassured everyone and then got to work. They worked tirelessly and generously. Everyone was in place by early afternoon when the rain got serious.

We began to lose electricity in the wee hours of the next morning. But cell phones and flashlights were working. Everyone was fine. No one was freaking out. And the storm passed. All of the houses were damage free except for a few shingles here and there.

As reports came in, we were stunned by how wonderful the people we serve and the staff were working together to make everything come together. One staff person was on his way to one location to relieve the overnight staff, but he was unable to get through due to all the downed trees. The police tried to turn him around and he said that he needed to get to work. So he ended up going to the closest home and worked there for the next 16 hours. Our staff are awesome!!

Hours later, when we were able to get to the Ralph Road house, we knew we made the right decision to relocate. It was flooded.

We kept our focus on meeting basic needs and “chasing” the electricity. We explained to everyone (receiving services) that we were going “camping”. We relocated everyone several times over the next 2 weeks because September in Central Florida is hot and we needed the air conditioning. Everyone slept in their own bed every night- we moved their mattresses. Everyone had their own backpack with their important things. Staff people (and their families) cooked food and delivered it to wherever we were and several staff people opened their homes to ensure that everyone was able to bathe each day. It was a wild 2 weeks.

But we still had the challenge of Ralph Road. As the flood waters receded, we were left with rapidly expanding black mold. We salvaged as many personal items as we could, then trashed everything else. Unfortunately, we rented this house. But we thought FEMA could help us because we still had 6 men that were essentially homeless.

We learned the hard way that help was not coming. So we figured it out. Four and a half months later, on February 1, 2018, the men of Ralph Road became the men of Oakwood and three more men had opted to try supported living.

We see the coming days as being full of challenges. But we also know with full confidence that we have to knowledge to make good decisions, we have the full cooperation of the people we serve and our excellent staff and that what will be, will be.

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