WASHINGTON COUNTY — On Oct. 12, Santa Rosa County sent 23 public works employees consisting of three loader crews and one Bobcat crew to Washington County to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Michael.

The public works employees joined Brad Baker, public safety director, Tom Lloyd, operations chief, Brandi Whitehurst, public information officer, and Tammy Simmons, administrative services manager, who were already on site in Washington County assisting with coordination and recovery efforts. Two Santa Rosa County emergency communications dispatchers were also deployed to Bay County as part of an emergency response team on Thursday. First responders from Gulf Breeze, Navarre Beach, Milton, Allentown, Pace Fire Rescue District and Midway assisted as well. 

Whitehurst speaks about Santa Rosa's work in Washington County.

How have you all been doing over there?

Brad Baker is working as the Incident Commander for Hurricane Michael recovery for Washington County along with an Incident Management Team (IMT) out of Palm Beach County (plus various other agencies) in assisting the Washington County Emergency Management director, Lynne Abel. Tom Lloyd is the Operations Chief. I'm [the public information officer] and we also have law enforcement for the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office and a good number of road and bridge crews from our Public Works department.

What have you seen?

[I've seen mostly] wind damage and what appears to be tornado damage. Washington County is a beautiful heavily-wooded, rural part of Florida with a lot of agriculture. Trees down on roads, homes and businesses; lots roof damage; electrical lines down on roads and wrapped in fallen trees – all very similar to what we have seen in Santa Rosa County after hurricanes there.

How are the locals there doing?

This is a very self-reliant community. People are looking out for their neighbors and helping each other. Every day I hear of residents who decline donations of food or water because they want it to go to someone in greater need. They are so grateful for the work our Santa Rosa County teams – and others from throughout the state – are doing for them. And they all say they want to return the favor to us someday but we tell them we really don’t want that to happen.

What is your day-to-day like?

We’re camping out on cots in the emergency operations center which is on a generator so we are quite comfortable. We’re well fed by volunteers and staff. We finally got some internet access and cell phone service although it’s still spotty and not very reliable. The first 24 hours all we had was a satellite phone. Each day has been a long one for us – up around 5 a.m. and working until 10 p.m. or so. Tasks vary for us based on our positions. Some duties are done in the [emergency operations center] like coordinating with local officials and via conference calls with the state department of emergency management, requesting resources, coordinating missions and assigning tasks. But there is some field work – checking on the PODs (points of distribution) and shelters. Public Works crews are clearing roads so residents can gain access to the services they need, like food and water. Fire and law enforcement have also been cutting trees. Our fire, EMS and law enforcement officials have been conducting welfare checks as well. All teams (fire, LEO, EMS and public works) have been distributing water, MREs and flyers with public information on them (where to go for shelters, where the PODs are, boil water advisories, power outage information).

When do you expect to be back home?

That will vary for us by our tasks. Public works crews may be finished before the need for and operations chief or public information officer is no longer necessary. Since we are so close to home, it will be easier for some of us to go back when that particular position is no longer a critical need.