Last week, before Dorian even reached hurricane status, the University of Florida’s faculty network throughout the state began setting long-planned storm preparation and recovery steps into action.
“There is not a county or area in the state where UF/IFAS (University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) does not have a presence, so it is integral for us to focus on not only protecting our research and educational facilities, but also assisting with any recovery efforts in our communities adversely impacted by Hurricane Dorian,” said Jerry Fankhauser, assistant director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of UF/IFAS.
This statewide presence also means that no matter where a hurricane hits the state, it will affect some number of UF faculty, staff and students, as well as their families. And in areas that are not projected to be affected, faculty there are prepared for the call to send supplies or personnel to assist.
“One of the many roles UF/IFAS Extension plays in Florida is during disasters – not only providing expertise for preparation and recovery, but also directly serving in local emergency operations,” said Nick Place, dean and director of UF/IFAS Extension. “This can mean being in the emergency operations center (EOC) for hours on end, and/or running an emergency shelter or food distribution activities for the county, with potentially many long hours away from family and perhaps their own home in peril.”
Angie Lindsey, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, notes that her colleagues throughout the state perform work beyond their specific expertise during disasters. Those in EOCs may answer the general citizen information phone line or provide expertise for anything related to agricultural and natural resources needs; some agents are part of shelter staff or supply distribution efforts; and others may head into the community to help remove fallen trees or rebuild damaged fencing. Offices may also be used as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) distribution and resource centers or by the State Agriculture Response Team as Incident Command Posts, staging areas and donation drop-off locations, Lindsey added.
“UF/IFAS Extension agents help where they can, are quick to identify needs, and work tirelessly to fill those needs within their communities,” said Lindsey, who also leads coordination with the Extension Disaster Education Network , which is a multi-state network of Extension professionals who develop educational resources to reduce the impact of disasters. “Leadership within UF/IFAS and our partner agencies communicate regularly and work together as a team to ensure that everyone has the tools they need to provide the best service they can to the communities they serve.”
In addition to recovery efforts, another post-storm task for UF/IFAS Extension is to assess the damage sustained by the local agricultural and natural resources sector.
“Our faculty collect on-the-ground information about damage to agricultural and natural resources, to report centrally so that analyses about economic damages can be produced,” Place said. Faculty from unaffected areas also travel to assist with these assessments.
This work is critical to recovery and informing regulatory agencies, including the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Lindsey said.
“Overall, UF/IFAS Extension participates in the incredible work that citizens know ‘someone’ is out there doing: Helping Floridians recover from disaster,” Place said. “UF/IFAS Extension’s outreach shines most brightly in the face of adversity.”