Florida Reps review state's hurricane response plan after Hurricane Irma

Posted at 5:07 PM, Dec 19, 2017

Representatives in Tallahassee are going over lessons learned from Hurricane Irma, hoping to smooth out issues with evacuations and preparations.

It's a storm for the record books and as Hurricane Irma was churning towards the state, people were clearing out grocery store shelves, stuffing sand bags, and clogging up the highways. Don Hess and his wife were heading to Atlanta.

"It took us 15 hours. Our average speed was 26 miles an hour," said Hess.

Ray Bouchard also had an extra long ride to Alabama with his mom and got stuck in traffic just south of Georgia, an area that is known for congestion during evacuations.

"I ran into people that had been in traffic 18 hours out of Miami and that’s only about a 5 and a half to 6 and a half hour drive," he said.

He also nearly ran out of gas on his trip home.

It's why representatives in Tallahassee are talking through what worked and what needs to be fixed.

A select committee on hurricane response and preparedness has been created. Some ideas include opening north and southbound lanes of traffic on all highways, lifting tolls as soon as an emergency is declared, and extending the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia state line to ease congestion.

Some reps would like to invest in underground utilities or auxiliary power at major intersections and make sure power restoration at nursing homes and assisted living facilities is considered a priority -the same as hospitals.

District 65 Representative Chris Sprowles says it varies from county to county, but the main goal is to make sure what happened in Hollywood, FL never happens again.

A few days after the hurricane, at least eight people died when the air conditioning failed at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, following power outages.

Sprowles is planning on following up on the outcome of the investigation, questioning what type of criminal liability exists for what happened there.

"There are members of the committee that are scattered from the various paths of the hurricane," said Sprowles, talking about how the committee was selected.

He says another big priority is getting people in and out of the state efficiently and making sure gas is getting to stations on time.

"We didn’t have a shortage of gasoline here in Florida, to the extent that we had issues in certain areas was because we couldn’t get the gas from point A to point B," he said.

One representative would like to lease a cruise ship capable of evacuating 5-6,000 people from South Florida, if necessary. Sprowles doesn't know how financially feasible that is, but says the committee is open to all ideas right now and that anything is open for discussion.

He says they will be handing recommendations to the house and other committees when session starts back up in January.