Follow by Email

Friday, February 9, 2018

Saving a life with Naloxone

Dayton, Ohio where I live now has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for opioid deaths. Very sad. I was a Boy Scout back in the day, so the "Be Prepared" motto is still always on my mind. I was able to receive NARCAN training the other night from Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone) and received two doses of Naloxone, a medication that can reverse an overdose that is caused by an opioid drug. I'm prepared!

Project DAWN website

Thursday, February 8, 2018

13 things I learned working as a media relations specialist for FEMA

I’ve got an article in this month’s National Information Officers Association newsletter. NIOA promotes professionalism and encourages stronger media relations by providing educational information, training opportunities and regional support for information officers. NIOA members are spokespersons from local, state and federal government, representing law enforcement, fire, medical, emergency management, transportation, public works and other public safety and emergency services agencies.

One of America's few certified Master PIOs, member Steven Solomon, is calling it a career, but shares the benefit of his experience - thirteen important lessons he learned working as a FEMA media relations specialist.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Helping with the Air Force's pre Super Bowl LII interception demo

I briefed the media in Duluth before Super Bowl LII.
Every year the Air Force shows the media what would happen if an unauthorized aircraft violates restricted airspace around the Super Bowl. 

I was the Civil Air Patrol's public information officer for the Air Force's media day, held Jan. 30 at Duluth Air National Guard Base, Minnesota. CAP’s Minnesota Wing provided an airplane for a static display inside the hangar. It was positioned between a Black Hawk helicopter and an F-16. I briefed the attending reporters, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection pilot, an F-16 pilot, and a Federal Aviation Administration official also briefed.

At the media event held Feb. 1, CAP had the smallest airplane taking part in a demonstration of F-16s flying alongside the CAP plane posing as a rogue aircraft, making radio contact, and guiding it out of restricted airspace around Super Bowl LII. The media watched one of the F-16s refuel during the mission from inside a KC-130 tanker. An NBC-TV was a passenger in the F-16D at the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing 

Since the terroristic attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the FAA routinely implements no-fly zones, called Temporary Flight Restrictions, around major events to ensure no general aviation airplanes enter for a specified radius. Air Force fighter aircraft enforce the TFRs during the time of the event.

CAP is involved in similar exercises around the U.S. throughout the year to test airspace security. The air defense exercises are carried out as part of Operation Noble Eagle, coordinated by the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command. The exercises are conducted in coordination with the FAA and other interagency organizations as appropriate.  


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Annual Dayton Red Cross holiday party

Mary is always so dramatic!
Mary and I attended the annual holiday and volunteer awards at the Dayton Red Cross on Dec. 7, 2017. It was potluck, and I told Mary I'd pick up a bucket of chicken. From KFC. Simple, right? Nope. She was shocked! So, she made pulled chicken and brought along rolls and condiments too. It was a big hit. There were many, many outstanding volunteers there, some having deployed to out of state disasters multiple times. You've got to give credit to folks who are so selfless about helping those in need. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Time to move on

I was deployed several times this year by FEMA -- to Michigan, Illinois, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida -- five states in four months!

And the big news is that I have now retired as a federal emergency response official. 

I’ll miss all my FEMA friends and colleagues, but being away from home so often over 8 ½ years was getting harder. 

From Jim Foster, my boss when I was deployed to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy:

From Thom Wise, who took me under his wing at my first deployment, in Massachusetts:

From my long-time FEMA lunch buddy:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Doing some good locally

represented the Red Cross today at the Cox Media Group Health Fair, to recruit volunteers, encourage CPR certification, talk about preparedness, and share the Red Cross mission.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

It sure is hurricane season!

After Hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria struck, FEMA was stretched thin and mobilized everyone it could. In the past, FEMA would deploy us from the airport nearest to where we lived to the airport nearest the disaster. This time, however, there was a new process whereby everyone was flown from their nearest airport to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and then bused over to the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama. 

At CDP there wasn't anything to do, except get a laptop computer, which at previous deployments I was given at the disaster's Joint Field Office. Getting one at CDP took just a few hours. I was there for five days waiting for deployment orders. It finally came when I was told to drive to Savannah, Georgia to support the mission there.

Here is what I did in Georgia:

Media Relations

The Darien News
FEMA is on the ground
By Kathleen Williamson Russell – Publisher and Editor | 
The editor also posted my interviews on Facebook.
Steven Solomon, FEMA’s Media Relations Specialist for McIntosh County, has some advice and updates for McIntosh Countians during this recovery from the destruction of Hurricane Irma.
“The important thing now that FEMA is stressing it that no one should second guess whether they are eligible or not for FEMA disaster assistance. Please, please apply and we will help you determine whether you are, in fact eligible for federal assistance,” Solomon said.
There are several ways to register, now that McIntosh County had been declared eligible to receive disaster assistance. One may go to, or call 1-800-621-3362.
Two disaster recovery centers opened on Friday, Sept. 22: Chatham County at the Tybee Island YMCA and Camden County at 1050 Wildcat Drive, Kingsland.
Solomon continued, “FEMA has people going door to door to help register. We caution people everywhere to be aware of scams. So if someone does knock on your door, please double check that they have the right FEMA photo ID and are wearing identification clothing. As with registering on line or calling, the FEMA representatives will be asking for nine or 10 items, including you social security number, bank account and routing number for direct deposits, which are sensitive kinds of questions. There are also questions to describe the damage, when the damage occurred, your address, and information about your insurance coverage. FEMA representatives will be working with iPads to register right there.
“The next step in the process is the homeowner or renter will receive a call from an inspector to come out to look at the property. We have eight inspectors in the field right now in the six counties,” he said.
“I want to stress that FEMA gives grants, which means this is money that does not have to be repaid. It is not taxable and will not affect social security. These are questions we are frequently asked.”
He added, “Also in the process, folks who register with us will be asked to register with the Small Business Administration, which covers both businesses and individuals and can make low interest loans to both. Filling out the extra paperwork is important. Because whether or not SBA offers you a loan or you accept the loan or if SBA rejects the application, it goes back to FEMA and you are eligible for perhaps other funds. This is just part of the process.”
The kinds of grants that are offered, Solomon said, include renting a temporary place to live; essential home repairs not covered by insurance; and other needs not covered by insurance, such as medical, dental, transportation, funeral, moving, storage, personal property and childcare. 
Solomon said, “That’s just about anything you can think of. It doesn’t mean everyone is eligible. It doesn’t mean everyone gets everything. But, our pledge is the FEMA will be here as long as it takes to register every eligible survivor for federal assistance.
“It is a process. But it is a process that must be done if you need help,” Solomon added, “There are folks who might think that they don’t want to apply for federal assistance, because they feel they can handle the disaster damage on their own and there are others who need it more than they do. They don’t want to accept the assistance, if it would keep others from getting that assistance. Not true. There’s funding. Apply. Apply. Apply. And, we will work it through.”

Recovery continues statewide
By Patty Leon
October 4, 2017 11:06 a.m.

I had more stories in this paper than any other.
It’s been three weeks since Hurricane Irma pummeled Florida and much of Georgia. Recovery efforts are ongoing. Here is the latest information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Individual Assistance is available for survivors in seven Georgia counties: Camden, Charlton, Chatham, Coffee, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh.
Survivors can report uninsured or underinsured damage to their homes, vehicles and other personal property with FEMA. Registering with FEMA is required for federal assistance, even if you registered with another disaster-relief organization or your county emergency manager. FEMA disaster assistance does not affect your Social Security or other federal benefits and is not considered taxable income by the IRS.
As of Saturday more than 21,000 Georgians had asked FEMA for assistance or information on recovery programs, according to Steven Solomon, FEMA media relations specialist. $7.7 million has been approved for survivors. More than 950 survivors have met with recovery staff at four disaster recovery centers, seeking assistance from state, FEMA, SBA and other agencies.
You can also register for assistance online at: or through the FEMA mobile app, or the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362. Survivors who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have difficulty speaking may call TTY 800-462-7585. Lines are open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week.
Homeowners, renters and businesses can find an electronic loan application on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website at Call questions to the SBA disaster customer service center at 800-659-2995 or TTY 800-877-8339 or
Applicants will receive registration numbers, which are used throughout the claim process.
Solomon said the deadline to apply for disaster assistance in Georgia is Nov. 14.

FEMA offers helping hands for hurricane recovery


FORT STEWART, Ga. – The 2017 hurricane season has put people out of their homes,
I was interviewed by Spec. Wiehe for the military media.
caused financial burden to those affected and severely altered the lives of many, but the season is not over – yet.
As a result of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irma and future disasters threatening the area, Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives are urging Soldiers and their Family Members affected to seek assistance.
“We’re here to support the recovery process in coordination with the state and local governments – we have a partnership with them for this effort and we have from the very beginning,” said Woody Goins, a FEMA division supervisor.
There are five designated counties in Georgia eligible for federal assistance following the impact from Hurricane Irma: Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh counties, said Steven Solomon, a FEMA spokesperson.
“FEMA is pledging to be here (in Georgia) as long as it takes to register every eligible survivor for federal assistance,” Solomon said.
There are currently 29 representatives in the area going to door-to-door to help people who have been affected by Hurricane Irma by getting them registered to apply for assistance, Solomon said.
Goins said people should come to FEMA if they have received damages.
“(FEMA) is based on supplementing available programs from state and local government and to be able to meet the needs of those people who qualify for FEMA programs,” Goins said.
The recovery process begins when those living in counties designated for disaster assistance complete the registration process through FEMA.
“It’s vital that survivors register with FEMA, ensure we have their current contact information and then coordinate with the housing inspector to schedule the inspection,” said Thomas McCool, federal coordinating officer. “The free FEMA housing inspections are an essential step in the recovery process for survivors who sustained damage to their homes.”
The registration process requires applicants to enter personal information to include their social security number as well as their bank account and routing number for the most efficient means for direct deposit, should they be found eligible, Solomon said. Beyond that, survivors must provide the address of the damaged home or apartment, description of the damage, when the damage occurred, information on insurance coverage and contact information.
Once registered, the survivor will receive a unique registration number that they should keep for their reference. FEMA warns that anyone who does not have a number is not yet registered, Solomon said.
Solomon said that even those who think the damage their home or property sustained as a result of the hurricane is too minimal to receive assistance should still register and have their property inspected.
“We’d like to reassure those people that while they’re having the best of intentions, there is no lack of funds available to ensure that everybody who is eligible has access,” Solomon said. “Sometimes it is not apparent right how significant the damage is, like mold. It might take time for that to be obviously visible.”
Solomon said people should start the application process before the deadline approaches. More than 5,000 residents in the five-county area already have, he said.
Assistance can be granted for things such as rent, funds for temporary housing, essential home repairs not covered by insurance and disaster-related needs not covered by insurance – medical, dental, transportation, funeral expenses, moving and storage fees, personal property loss and child care, Solomon said.
Solomon said along with the registration process, the survivor will likely also be asked to fill out an application with the U.S. Small Business Administration, which gives loans to people and not just businesses.
“Whether or not you want a loan, you need to fill out their separate package of information and they’ll come back and say (the survivor) does qualify for a low-interest loan or they don’t,” Solomon said.
Despite the application, survivors don’t have to accept it, but if they are rejected, Solomon said it may make them eligible for more FEMA grants.
“What we do guarantee is that if they do register for assistance, we will look into their specific situation, their home and their damages,” Goins said. “For those that don’t qualify for FEMA, we look for other programs and voluntary programs that can provide assistance.”
Goins said he walked on Tybee Island and talked to people prior to the county being declared eligible. There are disaster survivor assistance teams traveling the island to conduct research and assist people in registering through FEMA or an available program for them.
“They were really hurting in some areas; they had been flooded twice now from Hurricane Matthew and (Irma) and all within not even one year,” Goins said. “That certainly made it a more difficult situation for them.”
FEMA grants are not taxable and do not affect social security or other federal benefits citizens may already receive, Solomon said. They do not have to be repaid.
Solomon said those waiting on a response on their eligibility should not wait to make repairs, to take pictures of the damage and to keep all receipts for later submission.
The deadline to seek assistance from devastation incurred as a result of Hurricane Irma through FEMA is Nov. 14. To register, go online to or download the FEMA app. Those seeking assistance can also call 800-621-FEMA (3362).

The heavy artillery was lifted by a block and tackle system.
On a day off I visited Old Fort Jackson in Savannah, which is located at a strategic point along the Savannah River, about three miles east of the city. It was constructed as part of President Jefferson's coastal defense initiative in 1808. Soldiers were stationed there during the War of 1812 and was occupied by local militia units and later by federal troops led by Gen. Sherman during the Civil War. The fort was abandoned in 1905, and is now a museum operated by the non-profit Coastal Heritage Society. A very comprehensive tour is given by a volunteer dressed in a period uniform, who also fires the fort's main cannon as part of the presentation. 

The third oldest synagogue in the country in Savannah.
I was privileged to be able to pray twice at the oldest Reformed synagogue in the country, Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah. The congregation was granted a charter of incorporation by the Georgia State House in 1790 and its first building was erected in 1820. A fire destroyed it and the current sanctuary was consecrated in 1878. It was designed by New York architect Henry Harrrison in a pure neo-Gothic style, reflecting fashionable architecture of the Victorian era. I was warmly invited to the synagogue's Rosh Hashanna dinner and service as well as to the Erev Yom Kippur dinner and service.

The museum is on 13 acres.

I've been to many air and space museums, but one of the best ever has to be the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Savannah, which lives up to its claim as "One of the world's most powerful museum experiences." It has over 90,000 square feet of aircraft, interactive displays, videos, artifacts and aviation art. A docent spent time with me explaining the significance of some items that I otherwise wouldn't have known. I learned so much about air power during WWII from this museum, which features a fully-restored B-17 Flying Fortress as well as a collection of artifacts from various WWII 8th Air Force groups including personal items. A replica of a "safe house" and a POW exhibit were also fascinating. The memorial gardens outside were particularly moving to me. And the gift shop cashier was one of the most pleasant I've ever encountered. She shared some trivia with me that was fascinating.


Mary flew down from Dayton to spend weekend with me. We has a great
The garden was designed by Frederick L. Olmstead. 
dinner at the Council Oak Steakhouse and Mary did a little gambling. We also had lunch at the original Columbia restaurant in Ybor City, which is where we always took out-of-state visitors when we lived in Tampa. And we drove out to 
the Bok Tower Gardens, which is something we had always wanted to do but never got a chance to when we lived in Florida.
The centerpiece of the 50- acre garden is a 205-foot marble and coquina Singing Tower that was dedicated in 1929 by President Coolidge. The carillon has 60 bronze bells, with the largest weighing 11+ tons. There are daily concerts!
The garden and tower are on the grounds of the Pinewood Estate, the winter estate of American industrialist Charles Austin Buck from 1932 until his death in 1945.
Mary and I enjoyed a tour of the home, walking through the gardens, listening to the carillon, and lunching in the cafe.
After two weeks as FEMA's lead PIO in Savannah, Georgia, I was transferred to Ft. Myers, Florida. I had plenty of time to adjust, because I drove my rental car from Savannah to Ft. Myers. 

Hurricane Irma was a Cat-3 storm when it slammed into Florida.
Federal teams and voluntary agencies worked to help those in need. 
Teams staffed emergency shelters, provided meals, and offered comfort. 
FEMA transferred 2.4 million meals and 1.4 million liters of water to Florida.

Here's what I did in Florida:


 Image result for citrus chronicle logo

FEMA: Apply for disaster grants
Michael D. Bates
Oct 17, 2017
Barring any last-minute extension, the last day for Hurricane Irma victims to apply for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is Thursday, Nov. 9.
Already, about 13,250 Citrus Countians have applied for a FEMA grant. And FEMA spokesman Steven Solomon said Tuesday the agency does not want to leave anyone out of the loop.
“The sooner you start the process, the sooner the application can be processed,” said Solomon, who visited with the Chronicle on Tuesday.
But the watchword, he said, is patience. This summer, the nation has been hit hard by three devastating hurricanes: Irma, Harvey and Maria. The fires in California have further added to the equation and resulted in a backlog of FEMA applications. It may mean longer-than-normal waits for agency inspectors to come out to the person’s home.
People can apply for such things as low-interest loans for a variety of reasons: rebuilding homes destroyed by fallen trees, flooded homes along the Withlacoochee River, reimbursement for hotel stays during an evacuation and food spoiled in a power outage.
Statewide, more than 2.48 million Floridians - homeowners, renters - have registered with FEMA for federal assistance. Citrus County was among 48 Florida counties designated for eligibility.
Solomon said FEMA does not give federal grants to owners of businesses that have been damaged but will for their personal, primary residence. They would have recourse to the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) for their business establishments.
Solomon urged people to beware of scammers, posing as FEMA officials and asking for money or claiming they can process the paperwork fast. FEMA, he said, does not ask for fees.
And don’t be too stoic to apply for a FEMA grant, he said.
“Some folks feel they are in a position to handle this on their own and that if they apply and get a grant, they are leaving less money for those less fortunate than them,” Solomon said. “That’s not the case.”
And Solomon said he wants to dispel the notion that people who apply to FEMA for monetary reimbursement or help are agreeing to a loan.
“This is not a loan,” he said. “It’s a grant.”
If people are sitting at home with a gaping hole in their roof or other home damage from Irma that is creating an unsafe or unhygienic condition, get it repaired now and don’t wait for a FEMA inspector, Solomon said.
Just be sure to take photos of the damage and keep repair receipts.
Solomon said FEMA disaster assistance does not affect people’s Social Security or other federal benefits and is not considered taxable income by the IRS.
Individuals and business owners who sustained losses can begin applying for assistance today by registering online at, or by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362). The toll-free numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Image result for plant city observer logo
FEMA assistance deadline looming

The deadline to apply for FEMA assistance in Florida is Nov. 9 and more than 2.48 million Floridians have already contacted the group about aid. In Hillsborough County alone there have been 123,500 registrations, according to Steven Solomon, a media relations specialist for FEMA.
There are several ways to register for assistance if you live in a designated disaster relief county. You can apply online at, call the helpline at 800-621-3362, use the app or go in person to a disaster recovery center. The centers will be a “one stop shop,” Solomon said. There will be representation from both the state and county as well as the Small Business Administration, which offers low-interest loans.
There are also more than 650 Disaster Survivor Assistance team members going door to door in affected neighborhoods statewide. Solomon said to make sure the person at your door has a federal ID badge and to call the helpline if you have questions. He also said FEMA has no fees for any of its services.
To register for aid you do not need physical documents, just the information on them. You will need your Social Security number and the name on that card, the address of the damaged property and a phone number and contact address. If you have insurance you will need your total household income and a bank account routing number.

After registering an inspector will come assess the property. FEMA will then determine if you are eligible for help.

Image result for laker lutz news logo
Federal aid available for Hurricane Irma victims
By Kathy Steele
October 18, 2017
Federal emergency management teams are fanning out statewide to help Hurricane Irma victims register for financial assistance.
Residents in Pasco County lost trees, and in many instances, suffered damage to their homes due to Hurricane Irma. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is taking applications to provide financial assistance. (Kathy Steele)
In Pasco County, a team settled in at the Land O’ Lakes Branch Library on Collier Parkway from Oct. 11 through Oct. 14.
Area residents applying for assistance also could speak with representatives of the United States Small Business Administration and Pasco County.
Pasco County officials will make announcements soon about more locations that will open to take applications.
The in-person meet-ups with Federal Emergency Management Agency workers are only one of several ways to register for financial assistance.
Currently, the deadline to register is Nov. 9.
State officials have the option to request an extension, however.
Steven Solomon, a FEMA media relations specialist, said the easiest way to apply is to online.
The website is
For those who don’t have access to a computer or the Internet, they can call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362. Because FEMA is responding to a number of recent disasters, including Irma and Hurricane Harvey, there could be long waits on the phone.
“We’re asking for people to be patient,” Solomon said.
FEMA workers also are out in the field in the 48 counties declared as federal disaster areas. “We’re walking door-to-door with Ipads, registering people as we go,” Solomon said.
The field workers will have a federal ID badge, which residents should ask to see, Solomon said.
Those who register with FEMA for assistance will be asked to provide the following information:
§  Social Security number
§  Address of the damaged property and a contact phone number
§  Insurance coverage
§  Total household income
§  Bank routing number and account number
FEMA will schedule an appointment for an inspector to meet the applicant – age 18 or older – at the hurricane damaged property. The inspector doesn’t determine eligibility, Solomon said.
All of the information is sent to FEMA, and a letter will be sent to the applicant regarding a grant award.
FEMA grants can pay for a variety of losses including home repairs, temporary housing, transportation, medical and dental costs and funeral expenses.
These will be grants, not loans that would be repaid. Also, grants are not considered taxable income, and they don’t affect other benefits being received, such as Social Security or food stamps.
Homeowners with property insurance should file separate claims with their insurance companies and FEMA. The federal agency can supplement what insurance doesn’t cover.
Grant amounts aren’t intended to be a dollar for dollar replacement of all losses, but Solomon said they can aid in “making people whole again.”
Businesses can apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration. Solomon said it also would be helpful for business owners to talk with FEMA representatives to find out if other types of benefits also would be available.
Anyone who needs repairs completed should do so as quickly as possible, without waiting for a FEMA decision, Solomon said. But, they also should take pictures of the damage and keep receipts for purchases and services, he added.
Everyone should be on the alert for scam artists trying to take advantage of people, Solomon said.
“There is no charge for anything FEMA does,” Solomon said. “If (anyone) asks for money, it’s a scam.”

Image result for bay 9 news logo
Tampa couple becomes FEMA fraud victim
By Sara Belsole, Reporter 
Last Updated: Monday, October 16, 2017, 6:22 PM EDT
TAMPA -- Jack and Pam Kilbride are one of the lucky ones.
Their Tampa home didn't sustain any damage from Hurricane Irma.
Tampa husband, wife get FEMA check despite no damage
FEMA spokesman: $700 million handed out in Florida after Irma
Think you're a victim? Check out info below
But the Kilbride's got a letter in the mail from the Federal Emergency Management Agency saying they filled out an application for disaster relief funds.
"It had the last four digits of my social security number, my phone number, my name," Jack Kilbride said. "We pretty much figured out we were the victim of fraud."
The Kilbride's then got a $500 check in the mail from the government, and a FEMA contractor left a note on their door saying she had visited the property.
FEMA spokesman Steven Solomon said to date the agency has handed out more than $700 million to Floridians in need of help after Irma. He said this opens the door for potential criminal activity.
"Anyone who thinks they may have been a victim of fraud should first contact their local law enforcement agency and should follow up with FEMA," Solomon said. "Give us a call at the helpline, or if you prefer face-to-face, step into a recovery center."
The Kilbride's have contacted FEMA and local law enforcement and still don't have any answers. They said they are left with an unsettling feeling that someone out there has their personal information.
"It's very sad and I don't know how far reaching it is, but people taking advantage of bad times is just unbelievable," Kilbride said.
If you think you are a victim of fraud, you can email or You can also call (866) 223-0814, send a fax to (202) 212-4926 or write to the FEMA Fraud and Internal Division, C St. SW Mail Stop 3005, Washington D.C. 20472-3005.

Image result for naples herald logo

Recovery efforts continue one month after Irma
Justin Martin  October 11, 2017

On September 10, Hurricane Irma made landfall bringing an unprecedented amount of damage across the state. While life has returned to normal for many in Southwest Florida, local and federal agencies are still working to help those hardest hit and deal with the wreckage from the storm.
FEMA has been heavily involved in the recovery ever since Irma hit, opening a Disaster Recovery Center in Bonita Springs and deploying 44 Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams across Lee and Collier Counties. According to Steven Solomon, a FEMA spokesperson, the federal agency has fielded more than 2.38 million requests for assistance or information about recovery programs from across the state and 182,400 people have registered for aid in Southwest Florida alone.
Around $713 million has been approved for Florida residence through FEMA’s individual assistance program, which helps claimants deal with a myriad of different personal damages or losses from the storm. Flooding, the major source of damage in places like Bonita Springs and Everglades City, has triggered 24,000 flood-insurance claims through the Florida and National Flood Insurance Program and has resulted in $62 million in payments.
Not everyone who applies has their request approved, but all cases are subject to an appeals process. Solomon said that in many cases requests are declined due to simple mistakes on the application that can easily be fixed.
“Most of the time a determination letter goes out, if there was a problem, often it’s because there is a missing signature or just a piece of information,” Solomon said.
After a storm hits, the first recovery effort people look to is often getting the lights back on. Florida Power and Light underwent a mammoth effort after Irma, restoring power to over 4.4 million customers statewide. At one point, more than 28,000 workers labored to clear downed trees and repair lines until the company announced it had completed restoration work on September 22. FPL spokesperson Chris McGrath said that post-restoration, the company’s top priority is evaluating the performance of the power grid during and after the storm.
“The big thing for us right now is doing what we consider a pretty detailed forensic analysis of our system to get a sense of just how exactly it performed and figure out how we can get even better in storm response,” said McGrath.
McGrath said early results point to the $3 billion that FPL has spent on improving its grid paying off. After Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the company invested heavily in strengthening transmission structures which shaved days off the recovery time for Irma.
FPL has identified two areas in which it needs to improve according to McGrath, communication with customers and educating residents on tree planting. Trees and other plant life blowing into powerlines was the number one cause of outages during Irma. While workers can reinforce the pole, lines will always be vulnerable. FPL plans on stepping up its efforts to educate both individuals and local governments on proper tree placement to avoid damaging power lines during a storm.
While not the first thing people think about after a storm, debris removal is a time-consuming and costly part of hurricane recovery. Estimates are placing the amount of plant debris left by Irma at about three million cubic yards in Lee County alone, more than three times the debris from Hurricane Charley. County staff said that the cost of cleanup will be between $55 and $60 million and could take more than five months. Currently, a website Lee County set up to track its progress shows the process as 25 percent complete. Despite commissioners objecting to the long recovery time, the county is in a bind. The wide impact of Irma means that waste removal contractors are in heavy demand and commanding a premium. County Manager Roger Desjarlais even went so far as to characterize contractors as “profiteers.”
Even if local governments can secure extra help to expedite the process, they risk endangering their reimbursement for debris removal from FEMA, which requires competitive contracts to be in place pre-storm. That could leave taxpayers footing the bill for tens of millions in recovery costs.

American Hero
I have an Edison phonograph and cylinders at home.
Mary and I had been there before, but it was quite awhile ago, so on my first day off I visited Thomas Edison's winter estate in Ft. Myers. And although they were still cleaning up after the storm, and the house wasn't reopened yet, I was able to go on a tour of the museum, lab and gardens. The landscape today is still dominated by the huge Ficus trees planted by Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone during the time of their quest to find a viable domestic source of rubber (latex) to grow in the region. It also includes varieties of palms, citrus, bamboo and orchids. The Heritage Garden represents the original truck garden of fruits and vegetables used by the families for food. Today, the Edison Ford is home to more than 1,700 plants, including champion trees and continues Edison's tradition of an ever-changing botanical laboratory and garden.