Former FEMA Director critical of Sarasota County’s Hurricane Irma response

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The former head of FEMA, Craig Fugate, was very critical of the Sarasota County’s response to Hurricane Irma.

Before Hurricane Irma made landfall, Sarasota was in a panic. Many had no idea where to go, and it led to large, confused crowds.

Former FEMA Director Craig Fugate served under President Obama. He reviewed the county’s efforts and says there’s a lot of room for improvement.

“This is all about saving lives,” said Fugate.

Fugate says the county needs to open all shelters at once and make them all pet-friendly.

“It’s gonna be more work for the school board, more work for the Red Cross, it’s gonna be more work for the county, but by opening up all the shelters, people have certainty about where to go,” explained Fugate.

Before Irma’s landfall, many pet owners were turned away at shelters.

“It’s important that we look at the shelters as pet friendly for all. Now, how do we do that effectively so that we don’t have somebody who has allergies, so that’s part of the process we’re looking at,” said Sarasota County Emergency Services Director Rich Collins.

Fugate also urged the county to simplify its evacuation zones.

“Throughout Florida, we’ve used numbers and letters to designate zones. Then we tell people you have to go to a map and look at what zone you’re in. Why don’t we just tell them an area, so if you’re evacuating Longboat Key, don’t tell them a zone. Just say, ‘if you live in Longboat Key, you’re in a evacuation zone,’” Fugate explained.

“It may cost a little bit of money on the front end, but the reality is we get better options to people before the storm hits. Hopefully they’ll heed the evacuation orders and go to a safe location,” said Fugate.

Fugate shared his findings with community leaders from throughout Sarasota County. Officials also recommended providing more generators for nursing homes and finding additional sources to disseminate information to the public.

The county will present a final report in a public meeting next month. They plan on implementing the changes for the upcoming hurricane season.

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