Storms are a fact of life for the 20-plus million that call ourselves Floridians. Mother Nature reminded us of this when Hurricane Irma made her one-two punch – the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005.
Before and after Irma’s impact, Floridians responded.
With Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership, Florida safely executed the largest evacuation in U.S. history. He successfully negotiated lifting the federal government’s 1920 Merchant Marine Act, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, which immediately reduced regulations limiting the delivery of much-needed fuel in Florida – spurring a convoy of fuel trucks from seaports to gas pumps.
Law enforcement, first responders and direct service providers quickly jumped into action to protect and serve. Utility providers from Pensacola to Key West pre-staged – joined by more than 30,000 linemen from throughout the United States and Canada – and immediately began restoring power to more than 6.7 million homes and businesses that were in the dark after Irma’s wrath.
In business, leaders routinely assess what worked and what didn’t, and make necessary improvements. And in Florida, we have a long history of doing the same. It’s why, after Hurricane Andrew, Florida implemented some of the strongest building codes in the country, and the results are encouraging. For Irma, teams of building code experts will be conducting a deep dive looking at code performance and will continue to learn and improve, but one thing is for certain, the homes built under the current Florida Building Code performed remarkably well. Special thanks to the leaders of the Florida Home Builders Association and the Association of Florida Community Developers for working to make Florida stronger.
Perhaps most importantly, Floridians embraced their neighbors from all walks of life to lend a helping hand. Democrats, Republicans, people of different races and religions came together to help each other in a time of desperate need. As was the case in Houston, this unity was on full display when Irma engulfed Florida with its fury.
Wouldn’t it be great if this caring, respect and compassion lasted long after the impact of Irma begins to fade? Unfortunately, politicians are trying to use this disaster for personal gain and are already fanning the flames of partisanship and extremist views rather than focusing on what is most important – the actions that were taken to ensure the safety of Floridians from Irma’s wrath.
With Gov. Scott, our first responders, utility providers, neighbors and more, we saw leadership. Colleges, universities and schools opened their doors to shelter their neighbors, and in several communities, local chambers of commerce served as community Wi-Fi locations to help connect families with their loved ones, and to provide water and cooler temperatures.
Leaders from throughout Florida will gather this week for the annual Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum to focus on ways to make Florida more competitive. We’ll discuss Irma’s impact on Florida, but most importantly, we’ll take time to be thankful for and to honor the leadership of many.
After all, these heroic efforts should make us all proud to be Floridians.
Syd Kitson is chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and is chairman and CEO, Kitson & Partners. He can be reached at [email protected].