The newspaper headline for August 28, 2019, reads: “Category 5 Hurricane Expected to Hit Homestead, South Miami in Three Days.”
It’s a prop, part of a hurricane preparation event for Broward and Miami-Dade residents who gathered Saturday at Miami Dade College.
But the challenges it describes -- dwindling gas supplies, food shortages at grocery stores, a last-minute evacuation order -- are very real pre-hurricane problems in South Florida.
Krystal Freeman of North Miami knows firsthand. She rode out Hurricane Irma last September with her two sons and her mother and saw how a hurricane's impact extends beyond the actual storm.
"Most of the neighborhood grocery stores were wiped out pre-storm, and after the storm there wasn’t much food available for us, either," she said. "All of us should work together with the government to ensure that everyone is safe and has sufficient supplies."
That proactive, collaborative attitude toward hurricane challenges was the main idea of Saturday's disaster response simulation, which organizers called "Serious Games."
About 120 residents of mostly low-income neighborhoods in Broward and Miami-Dade brainstormed solutions to hurricane evacuation challenges and hurricane-induced crises like flooding of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant and long-term air conditioning outages. Their efforts focused on identifying resources already within their communities, and building those resources into the hurricane plans of local governments and utility providers.
"A lot of initiatives don't include the people they're supposed to support," said Nancy Metayer, who helped organize the event for the non-profit New Florida Majority. "This is a way for the community to come together and say, 'Listen, you know, I have a voice. I care about this and I really want to be included in whatever plans the county or city has.'"
Easton Harrison, an activist from Lauderdale Lakes who helped lead the discussion for Broward neighborhoods, echoed a refrain that's becoming common among South Florida emergency planners and community organizers alike: Your neighbor is your first responder.
"We can no longer wait on government officials to make sure that we're well taken care of. Not that they can't do their job -- but at the end of the day, the community is the main people out there, walking from door to door and making sure you're okay," he said. "My hope is that we can work in concert with elected officials and legislators on a cohesive plan."
At one of the Broward tables, people from the Liberia neighborhood are brainstorming where they could go to be safe from rising water. Schools and neighborhood associations come to mind as resources. Where to get supplies, though? Are there places both east and west of I-95?
— Kate Stein (@stein_katherine) June 30, 2018
Several elected officials and emergency managers from Miami-Dade and Broward stopped by throughout the course of the daylong event. Metayer emphasized the goal was to have them listen to residents' ideas -- which ranged from communication "hubs" with power and Internet, to solar-powered coolers -- and ultimately include those ideas in local and regional emergency plans and resilience strategies.
Grants of $5,000 to $10,000 will also be available to help implement some of the plans. The money comes from donations to the Florida Disaster Preparedness Plan, a grassroots effort that organized "community emergency operations centers" statewide after Hurricane Irma.
If you need a shelter that's equipped for disabilities or special needs, or if you need help evacuating before a hurricane, register with Miami-Dade County by clicking here or with Broward County by clicking here.