South Florida Cleanup Quick, Well Planned Being Prepared for an Emergency Pays Off

Article excerpt

SOUTH Florida is proving the old axiom true: Being prepared pays off.

Its cleanup in the aftermath of Monday's hurricane is something close to extraordinary, at least from downtown Miami northward.

Within the first 36 hours after Hurricane Andrew struck:

* City and county crews cleared the debris from major highways and streets.

* Florida Power & Light Company restored electricity to four-fifths of the 3 million people who lost power in the storm.

* Southern Bell maintained remarkably good telephone service despite power outages to most of its crucial central stations in the region.

The efficiency demonstrated here stands in stark contrast to the tortuous cleanup after Hurricane Hugo slammed into Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 22, 1989.

"Many of the lessons that were learned in Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina ... are being put into effect in this disaster," US Sen. Bob Graham (D) of Florida said Tuesday.

In part, response to Andrew was better because local officials and public utilities here regularly practice disaster-preparedness. Another factor: Local radio and TV stations weren't knocked out in south Florida as they were in Charleston. The news media play an important role in getting timely information to people stranded by a disaster.

Finally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency aims to clean up its image as it cleans up south Florida. FEMA coordinates 27 agencies that dispense federal disaster aid. It stumbled badly in responding to Hugo.

No longer.

"You're going to find it's a lot different ball game," promises Jay Eaker, a FEMA spokesman. "This is not a take-your-time-we'll-recover-eventually type of thing." It's coordinating a rapid-response effort - something it was not asked to do for Hugo victims.

Rapid response requires close coordination of county officials, who make the initial request for outside aid, and state and federal officials, who carry through on the request. Here in south Florida, the coordination worked beautifully, officials say.

Hours after Andrew hit, Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles (D) declared the area a disaster. By evening, President Bush had signed a measure releasing federal disaster funds. National Guard units from North Carolina and Indiana were brought in. They worked alongside local law enforcement to keep order and deter looters. …