More than 100 disaster responders gathered Tuesday for the First Annual Central Florida Hurricane Mitigation Exercise.
Organizer Jody Hill said the meeting attracted participants representing many different federal, state, and local organizations.
The day started with a brief hurricane scenario, and then moved into breakout sessions where attendees discussed different aspects of hurricane preparation and response.
Hill lead the mitigation discussion group and said she learned from them. "I was focusing on building structure questions, but the group also brought up many other important issues I hadn't thought to discuss," said Hill, who serves as executive director of the Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster (FIND). "It was such a great time to learn from each other's experiences."
Participants came out of the entire day with a list of important issues to work on. "We agreed there's a need for continuing education, strengthening communication and our network, building the capacity of community collaborative groups, and making sure all the participants become active in their local mitigation strategies," she said.
Everyone left energized, added Hill. "They really enjoyed it, and they want us to do it again next year," she said.
The mitigation exercise also garnered lots of onsite media coverage, something which Hill said helped advance the group's goal of letting the media know how important its role is in hurricane mitigation and response. Panic is not something media outlets should be encouraging, Hill noted, but rather they should be helping get important information to the public.
The state of Florida does hold annual hurricane exercises, yet Hill said that's mostly just for state organizations and it focuses on systems of response. "It's mostly an internal event - and its up in Tallahassee," Hill said. "We recognized that many nonprofits weren't informed of or invited to that event, so we saw an opportunity to hold one for folks in our region."
Central Florida is also home to many new disaster response organizations, added Hill, so this event was an excellent resource to offer. "This gave them a great chance to learn from seasoned groups, make connections, and build relationships," she said. "It's a win/win situation for everyone."
One such new group is the Volusia Interfaith Networking in Disaster (VIND), which is headed by Rev. David Troxler of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Volusia County.
"Our faith-based group is still very young, we've only been around for about three years," said Troxler. "This was a good learning experience. It allowed us to meet others involved - which will help in the future."
He added that it's important for faith communities to know that they can offer help during times of disaster.
FIND organized the event with a planning team including representatives from the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and several Orlando city officials. Hill said she's grateful for the many people, grants, and donations that helped make it all happen this year, and she hopes they can do it again next year.
Troxler said he'd be happy if there was a Second Annual Central Florida Hurricane Mitigation Exercise next year. "I would certainly go again," he said. "You can always learn more."
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