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NCEM Employees and NC Responders Aid Florida’s Hurricane Ian Response

Author: Brian Haines

Hurricane Ian struck a devastating blow to southwest Florida before rolling through North Carolina with relatively minor impact. Several N.C. Emergency Management employees and North Carolina responders who originally had braced 
to provide local support, deployed instead to the Sunshine State. 

Before Ian made landfall in Florida, Red Grasso, program director for the N.C. Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office and FirstTech, was at the Florida State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, assisting with tactical communications coordination. After being deployed a week, Grasso was replaced by NCEM Communications Branch Manager Greg Hauser, who continued the work of ensuring effective radio communications with 
responders and coordinating the response with commercial telecom companies. 

NCEM also assembled and deployed a 15-person incident management team in response to a Florida Emergency Management Assistance Compact request. That team was assigned to the Lee County Emergency Operations Center in Fort Myers, where their mission was to coordinate the work of multiple incident management teams providing response to barrier islands around Fort Myers including Sanibel, Captiva, Pine Island and Estero Island/Fort Myers Beach. 

The incident management team included Eric Wiseman, Dennis Hancock, Robin Brown, Sandi Bridges, David Gale and Billy Winn from N.C. Emergency Management. Other North Carolina responders included Craig Smith and Todd Apple, Greensboro Fire Department; Henry Helton, Catawba County EMS; Isaac McCurry, Asheville Fire Department; Jeremy Bumgarner, Charlotte Fire Department; William Kehler, McDowell County Emergency Services; Will Holt, Watauga County Emergency Services; Tim McFalls, Henderson County Emergency Services and Rodney Diggs, Anson County Emergency Services. 

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The barrier islands took the brunt of the storm’s beating, with bridges and causeways to several islands being cut off or severely damaged. Access to the islands was initially only by boat or helicopter. Barge operations were started to move utility 
crews and other responders onto the islands until Florida Department of Transportation crews could repair and reopen bridges. After more than a week of coordinating island operations, a portion of the team de-mobilized and others were assigned specific missions on one of the islands where special attention was needed. 

With the mission extended for another week, three additional IMT members deployed to backfill some of the returning members. Mike Willis from Burke County Emergency Services, Todd Marshall from Iredell County Emergency Management and NCEM Area Coordinator Charles Tripp headed to Florida. Sandi Bridges and Robin Brown returned to Florida after a few days back at home. 

NCEM Public Information Officer Keith Acree deployed in response to a request for a PIO to serve at the State EOC in Tallahassee. After two days in the state capital, he was redeployed to help the Town of Fort Myers Beach with its public information efforts. The Fort Myers Beach Town Hall was destroyed and most of the town’s municipal facilities suffered heavy damage. Acree spent 12 days helping the town’s public information officer and town staff with information updates, video production, news conferences, and media and public interaction. 

NCEM longterm recovery chief Joe Stanton also deployed to lend his years of recovery expertise to Florida. He assisted Lee County with navigating recovery programs and coordinating with FEMA.

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