Florida State University

College of Social Sciences & Public Policy

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EMHS Program Active in Hurricane Irma Preparedness

September 19, 2017

The Florida State University Emergency Management and Homeland Security (EMHS) program was activated by the Florida Division of Emergency Management to support statewide preparations for Hurricane Irma, which affected nearly all of Florida over several days in early September.

The Irma activation included recruiting student volunteers as part of the Student Disaster Corps (SDC) run by EMHS. Nearly 40 EMHS students were placed as disaster volunteers with the Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM), the Florida Department of Health (DOH), and Volunteer Florida. Student volunteers worked around the clock supporting organization hotlines and helping enter shelter management data.

EMHS also runs the critically important Virtual Operations Support Team (VOST) which tracks trends and rumors about Hurricane Irma on social media. VOST flags potentially dangerous or erroneous information and passes it to officials who can address any misinformation.

Supervised by EMHS staff, students also monitor social media reports concerning gas shortages, traffic problems, power outages and individuals needing assistance. The information is compiled to DEM in situation reports, providing a citizen level perspective.

EMHS faculty, staff, and students worked directly with DEM officials in many capacities at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. The unmanned aerial systems (UAS) team had just returned from Texas, where they were mapping Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Back in Florida, the EMHS UAS team was activated to assist with the State Emergency Response Team Air Operations mission in order to facilitate airspace coordination, communication and integration.

Finally, the EMHS UAS team deployed to South Florida following landfall of Hurricane Irma. The team was tasked with supporting urban search and rescue operations, as well as working directly with FEMA to conduct damage assessments of impacted areas.

“EMHS was able to offer valuable assistance and service during the emergency,” said Audrey Heffron-Casserleigh, a professor in the program and senior fellow of the FSU College of Social Sciences and Public Policy Center for Disaster Risk Policy (CDRP). “It was also a great way to get students involved in the front lines of preparedness.”

For more about CDRP and its Emergency Management and Homeland Security program, visit this link.