Senate committee probes emergency response shortcomings following Irma

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, November 16, 2017, 8:40 PM EST

Appearing before a top Florida Senate committee Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott's emergency management chief sought to downplay a 2016 audit that found shortcomings in the state's ability to supply hurricane shelters with necessities like food, water and cots. The report has become a central exhibit in criticisms of the governor's handling of Hurricane Irma, when a scattering of shelters across the state complained of a lack of supplies.

  • December 2016 audit found less-than-adequate stockpiles of supplies
  • Trucking contracts to deliver supplies to shelters allowed to expire
  • Proposals for reform being contemplated

Interim Florida Emergency Management Director Wes Maul told the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee that while the December 2016 audit identified less than adequate stockpiles of supplies at the State Logistics Response Center in Orlando, the center was fully supplied in the weeks before Irma.

"Often times, the carrying cost of certain supplies over multiple years of inactivity can be more expensive than procuring the good at the time of need, and so, that's something that we have to take into consideration," Maul said.

The audit also found the Scott administration had allowed trucking contracts to ship supplies to shelters to expire. Some lawmakers have sought to link that development to the shelter supply shortages during Irma.

While Maul's testimony Thursday was specifically focused on the audit's findings concerning the logistics center, the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville), appeared incredulous that he had not come armed with a plan of action for the trucking issue.

"I anticipate that since the deficiencies were here, particularly as it related to contracting, as opposed to sending us something later, that you and your team would have been prepared to let us know that this morning."

As the legislature prepares to convene its 2018 session in January, a series of proposals are being contemplated to prevent repeats of some of the state's missteps during Hurricane Irma. House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes) has floated the creation of a "central gas reserve" to stem fuel shortages during mass evacuations, and increased funding for the state's emergency management functions is a distinct possibility, as well.

The most sweeping reforms, however, could involve increased legislative oversight of the executive branch. Top lawmakers have already voiced frustration about what they say has been the Scott administration's lack of consultation on emergency spending. And if Thursday's hearing is any indication, stepped-up legislative involvement in the tactical aspects of emergency management could also be on the horizon.