Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm and left a path of destruction, ravaging communities. In the aftermath, an incident management team or “IMT” mobilized. Led by John Ward from Clay County Emergency Management, the team consisted of first responders from the region who are specifically trained to help communities manage critical incidents and events.
Some people may wonder what exactly and IMT does? Chief Jeff Johnson is a member of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and IMT member. He recently took the time to share with us the IMT’s functions when responding to a disaster.
“As a member of the Northeast Florida IMT, I have been deployed to several hurricane incidents, Hurricane Ida in Louisiana being the most recent. When we arrived, I knew that this would be a humanitarian effort. By the looks of things, we needed to manage relief efforts for the citizens of Louisiana immediately.
Our team was divided into two separate missions, and my team was tasked with managing a 2000 person base camp buildout to house first responders and military personnel. The other part of the team was tasked to manage fire suppression units’ deployment to the lower nine wards in Louisiana.
That’s our mission. As an IMT, we mobilize to disaster areas to help with relief efforts during complex emergency incidents. Disasters have their own uniqueness, and this one was no different. Hurricane Ida produced a catastrophic electrical power event that caused massive power outages across the state. Infrastructure, homes, and agriculture were affected, and restoring power would be crucial to returning life to normal. Johnson says bringing that normalcy back is a huge task and challenge, but we work as a team to accomplish the mission.”
Johnson was tasked with standing up and managing a large Base of Operation for around 2000 individuals. He’s never been part of that type of operation before, and only had five days to manage the buildout. “We needed to house, feed, and have basic services, including showers, restrooms, laundry, medical, and fuel for all types of vehicles and equipment. We attended local council meetings to secure water permits, learn about basic road maintenance, and get air conditioners to 100 individual tents. Being able to play a small role in such a large-scale disaster showed me the power of the human spirit. People pulling together focused on a shared mission to help those who were affected.”
While deployed, he befriended a local 15 person University Police Department who not only lost a lot of its equipment and resources but its members themselves, along with their family, were affected by Ida’s path of destruction. Each member and their family suffered losses from damage to property, roof, mold, and mildew due to flooding and power outages. The University Police itself lost their vehicles to be able to respond to calls for services. “Listening to their stories impacted me profoundly. I knew I had to do something, so I reached out to my home agency, asking if they could put out a call to our community to help donate clothing, toiletries, boots, and equipment, and the community answered”, said Johnson.
Chief Johnson went on to add, “The citizens and businesses community of Clay County, who always supports the efforts of the sheriff’s office, answered the call, but that’s not all; the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, our regional partners, responded with us. We were able to help impact the lives of those who were affected by the storm. I am truly blessed to work for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and a community like Clay County.”
“As IMT members, we accomplished a lot, and I’ll never forget that. The relationships built, the families we were able to help will have a lasting impression on me—the manual labor of managing a 2000 person base camp was minuscule compared to getting those specific and necessary items needed by each family. That gave me a sense of pride. I returned home with a warm feeling in my heart, and if called, I’d do it all over again.”
Sheriff Michelle Cook, also a long-time member of the Northeast Florida IMT added, “Our IMT is committed to assisting communities and agencies who are struck by disaster. As the Sheriff, having members of our CCSO on the team is a source of pride and the experience gained by team members prepare our members and our agency for the next critical incident in Clay County.”