“As of 10 o’clock Friday morning it (Hurricane Gloria) had managed to avoid every town on the Eastern seaboard north of Key Largo, and Neil Frank was frantically adjusting his azimuths to account for the hideous disparity he created between Gloria’s berserk reputation and her strangely quiet behavior.
McDonell, however, was still in a state of fear.
“The whole city is closed down,” he said. “We expect it to hit in two hours. The streets are empty. People are afraid.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “You people are like pigs in the wilderness. Get a grip on yourself. There is no storm. That maniac down in Coral Gables just ran another sick trip on us. He’s blown two in a row now. And he looks like Ozzy Nelson on speed.”
“Nonsense,” said McDonell. “He’s the director of the National Hurricane Center.”
“So, what?” I said. “He’s a raving lunatic – a nice guy, maybe, but a hopeless hurricane junkie. Pay no attention to him. Go out and play golf. The links will not be crowded today.”
–Hunter S. Thompson, “The Geek from Coral Gables,” September 30, 1985
I was reminded of Dr. Thompson’s spot-on analysis of how many still feel about hurricane forecasters after the high-drama of the past week – nearly 34-years on. . .
Communications researchers continue to study the negative effects of long-term exposure to prolonged information campaigns – most evident during election cycles when candidates inundate us with non-stop mailers, television spots and print advertising – or when public health promotions (anti-smoking, obesity, etc.) run for extended periods of time.
It’s known as “message fatigue” and over time it weakens concentration and results in resistance and disengagement.
When the flow of information exceeds our ability to cognitively process it, we simply block out what becomes little more than hyper-repetitive noise.
Modern weather forecasting and modeling have given meteorologists the ability to identify trends and changing patterns many days in advance. These scientific advances have bought residents in areas vulnerable to severe weather phenomena precious time for preparation, and, if necessary, to get the hell out of the way.
It’s a blessing.
And a curse. . .
For over a week, the Southeastern United States came to a standstill.
We were glued to coverage of Hurricane Borian – which came at us 24/7 via every known media platform – mercilessly flogged by network affiliates, newsies, commercial meteorological sites, the National Hurricane Center and every keyboard weather geek from Charleston to Key West and beyond.
Add to that the growing cottage industry of online “amateur experts” – websites that serve as an aggregate for the various radar returns, storm models, cones, shear maps, vorticity charts and official NHC predictions – providing the worried masses with a level-headed antidote to the no-holds-barred sensationalism and lurid “worst case scenarios” of the Weather Chanel.
When you factor in our natural propensity for information bias and selective attention – our primeval need to focus solely on the best or worst aspects of a situation – we begin to understand why social media dissolved into such a hell-broth of hyper-speculative misinformation (peppered with some really funny memes) this week.
Suddenly, many of my friends who live in this box on my desk became infernal tropical weather experts – arguing and hypothesizing over everything from restaurant closures to the best style of Cheez-it (everyone knows ‘extra toasty’ are the best) and which evacuation routes have the least traffic.
Like touching a live wire – it took me a minute to let go and disengage, shut off the computer and step away, grab one of the fifty-six bags of chips littering the kitchen counter, pop a cold brew from the iced down Yeti and find an old episode of M.A.S.H. on television. . .
Sometimes, ignorance truly is bliss. . .
Frankly, I found my own conspiratorial cheese slipping off the cracker when I momentarily agreed with a post espousing the theory that the non-stop coverage was all a big media plot, choreographed by marketing hacks, to hype the storm and drive worried customers to their Big Box advertisers who got fat this week selling bottled water, plywood and generators. . .
(But what if. . .? Stop it Mark. Get a grip, dammit.)
It wasn’t message fatigue; it was massive media overload – and it collectively drove us to the ragged edge as we desperately tried to sort fact from media hysteria.
The interminable wait for Dorian became like drinking from a fire hose of hurricane preparation tips and ‘hunker down’ homilies – an almost claustrophobic feeling of inescapability – that left some serious psychological cuts and scrapes on coastal residents to match the dark bruise on our wallets (I literally have enough snacks, canned goods and Vienna sausages to feed the Third Infantry Division. . .)
Then, when the mercilessly over-hyped maelstrom finally arrived here on the Fun Coast, it was little more than a wet fart – some squally rain on a fresh breeze that wasn’t unlike a strong thunderstorm on a summer afternoon.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise.
Anyone who observed the model runs hour-to-hour knew well in advance that the eye wouldn’t make it left of 80 West – yet, we suspended logic and could never be certain – given the fact those rain-drenched Weather Channel bubble-heads kept the speculation going by covering the ebb and flow of sand on the beach. . .
As a result, my family did the prudent thing and evacuated our small grandchildren and ‘fur babies’ inland – just to be safe.
At the end of the day, Central Florida was spared the devastating impact of one of history’s most destructive hurricanes – a storm that resulted in damage of biblical proportions in the Bahamas as they took a brutal lashing over interminable hours.
As our lives return to normal, let’s take stock of our many blessings and reflect on the valuable lessons that only come from experiences like this.
A ‘hotwash’ of our personal disaster planning and preparation efforts is a good learning tool for the next time – a family or corporate evaluation of what went right or what we could have done differently to mitigate the impacts to our lives and livelihoods.
Most important – let’s all take a deep breath, relax and decompress. It’s been a long week.
While we are far from perfect – when the chips are down – the long-suffering residents of the Fun Coast have a way of coming together to help each other see our way through some dark and dangerous times.
I’m proud of that – and each of you.
I want to say thank you to the first responders, government leaders, emergency management professionals, neighborhood heroes and our local news reporters who worked so hard to ensure we were informed and prepared, come what may.
Let’s remember those who suffered the hellish brunt of Hurricane Dorian in places like Grand Bahama and the Abacos and do whatever you can to help. Many reputable emergency response groups are gearing up to provide much-needed humanitarian relief to those whose lives have been irreparably changed.
We got lucky, now, let’s pay it forward.
Welcome to the other side, friends.
Now, back to our regular programming. . .
It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:
Angel Volusia County Sheriff’s Office
During my many years of law enforcement service, I had the honor of serving with many talented public servants from a variety of local, state, federal and foreign agencies – officers, agents and deputies who exemplified the highest traditions of the police service – and committed their mind, body and spirit to protecting and serving others.
Among the best of the best is newly appointed Volusia County Chief Deputy Joe Gallagher, Jr.
Following the departure of John Creamer from the second-in-command position last month, Sheriff Michael Chitwood named Chief Deputy Gallagher to this important role – an incredibly astute decision that will serve the department, and Volusia County residents, very well.
In over three decades in public service, I have never once heard anyone say anything negative about Joe Gallagher.
Chief Deputy Gallagher comes from a remarkable law enforcement family and enjoys a stellar reputation that has earned him the universal respect of his colleagues – and he possesses a unique diversity of experience and advanced training that make him the perfect fit for this challenging role.
Deputy Chief Gallagher’s former role as Division Chief has been filled by the very impressive Brian Henderson – a 2016 graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy – and former head of the agency’s investigative services section.
In an article announcing the promotions in Wednesday’s edition of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Wild West Volusia reporter Patricio Balona quoted Sheriff Chitwood:
“The caliber of leaders in the Volusia Sheriff’s Office is second to none, and I’m grateful to all who are stepping up to lead this agency into the future,” Chitwood said. “Chief Deputy Gallagher and Division Chief Henderson are two of the most dedicated, experienced and innovative leaders in our organization, and I know they’ll continue to help us accomplish great things for the people of Volusia County.”
Please join me in congratulating Chief Deputy Gallagher and Division Chief Henderson on this important milestone in their stellar careers in service to the citizens of Volusia County.
Asshole Public Information in the Age of CYA
Look, I hate to be the first to throw cold water on the post-storm lovefest that naturally comes in the wake of a near miss, but I’ve got a bone to pick with some of our local professional mouthpieces. . .
It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building.
Unless you kept an eye on the machinations of county government in the interminable lead-up to Hurricane Dorian, you may have missed several interesting windows into the weird internal structure of Volusia County’s “new and improved” administration under County Manager Georgie Recktenwald.
For instance, as coastal communities from Miami to the Outer Banks prepared for the potential onslaught of a major hurricane – the News-Journal’s preeminent environmental reporter, Dinah Voyles-Pulver, (a community Angel in her own right) posted on social media that she attempted to interview Jim Judge, Volusia’s very competent emergency management director – a completely reasonable request given the magnitude of the potential threat.
Her request was summarily denied. . .
You read that right.
Last week our community’s newspaper of record attempted to push critical emergency preparedness information to worried residents – Volusia County’s Public Information Office apparently blocked Director Judge from communicating with his constituents until after close of business.
Then, when our Emergency Management Director was finally allowed to speak with the News-Journal – the call was mysteriously “monitored” by a member of the Public Information Office.
Unfortunately, later in the week, Flagler County joined suit when officials announced to reporters that it’s EM director had “no time for individual calls” – leaving residents to receive vital information from those stilted, highly-staged podium gaggles – where emergency management types provide canned information and jockey for airtime with sharp-elbowed politicians who suddenly transmogrify from the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker into tropical meteorologists.
Conversely, in communities throughout Central Florida, elected and appointed officials took the opportunity to speak directly with their residents, build goodwill and alleviate the natural fear that comes from over a week of non-stop puff.
For instance, in Holly Hill, Mayor Chris Via joined other city officials and employees in helping at the community sandbag pile – working shoulder-to-shoulder with worried constituents – getting their hands dirty in a meaningful and noble cause.
The same was true in South Daytona, and in many cities throughout Central Florida, where countless hometown heroes – citizens, elected officials, faith-based organizations and grassroots helpers – all joined in neighborhood amity to serve a cause greater than their own self-interests.
In Daytona Beach, police officers went door-to-door to educate residents of flood prone areas on the importance of preparation and evacuation – something that helps calm anxious residents and truly personalizes the efforts of municipal government during a crisis – a civic bond which will pay dividends for a long time to come.
I don’t know about you, but I like hearing directly from my mayor, my police chief, my fire chief, my elected officials during an emergency – especially when my family is staring down the barrel of one of the most powerful and destructive storms in recorded history – and Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri and Sheriff Mike Chitwood were informative, accessible, committed and calming before, during and after the storm.
I admire that.
Look, there is always time for senior government officials to speak with media outlets one-on-one. In fact, that’s a critically important part of their job – and senior administrators and elected officials should know that.
During my many years of public service, some of the most important and lasting relationships I enjoyed were with working journalists – professionals who became trusted colleagues and worked hard to get critical information out to the public when we needed it most.
It’s a given that not everyone will be happy with the decision makers regardless of outcome – and from personal experience, I know how hard many unsung heroes worked this week to prepare and respond to Hurricane Dorian.
Savvy public officials know that criticism – even when its unwarranted – is all part of a very difficult job, and any attempt to deflect blame or sidestep responsibility in the name of political preservation becomes immediately apparent.
Let’s hope this weird overreach by Volusia County’s Public Information Office was a hiccup in the confusing leadup to a potential crisis – and not a more sinister micromanaging attempt to control the “message” at the point of a spear.
In my view, when local government becomes so massive – so unwieldy – that it can no longer address the vital public information needs of its citizens during a threat – then perhaps it’s time for voters to “right size” the uncommunicative behemoth and bring it to heel.
Asshole Fun Coast ‘Visionaries’
It’s become apparent that many of our ‘Rich & Powerful’ political influencers are working hard to implement their own Master Plan in Daytona Beach and beyond – one that crafts select parts of our community in their own self-image – while other areas (and constituencies) are left to rot.
Affluent, posh, opulent, swanky, luxuriant, sumptuous, extravagant – haughty hotels with nightly rates far exceeding the budget of most vacationing families, a semi-private park with an astronomical maintenance budget, “enhanced amenity fees” that keep working families out of the tony shopping areas their taxes helped pay for – and exclusive “theme” communities and exorbitantly priced luxury apartments.
Those of us who pay the bills stand in stunned silence as public funds allocated to clip, trim and pamper the lush lawn and ornamental shrubbery at the J. Hyatt Brown Grande Esplanade in Downtown Daytona rivals what we collectively spend housing our very visible homeless population.
This week, the Labor Day holiday (such as it was) reminded us of the thousands of families in Volusia County who are living at or below the poverty line – struggling mightily to make ends meet in an artificial economy based on the same five uber-wealthy oligarchs passing the same nickel around. . .
Those who form the backbone of our service-based market – the hospitality workers, clerks, servers, housekeepers, line cooks, custodians and others who hold down two or more part-time, low-paying jobs – toiling every waking hour to support families and keep a roof over their children’s heads.
I’m talking about the 214,039 Volusia households who are one bad day away from total financial collapse – hardworking folks who will never sip overpriced cocktails on the pool deck at Hard Rock, stroll the increasingly vacant colonnade at One Daytona or buy olive tapenade at an elegant niche grocer – real people who form the foundation of our areas hospitality, construction and light manufacturing industries.
Earlier this year, I listened in stunned silence at the annual gathering of FAITH – a coalition of local faith-based organizations working collaboratively to bring solutions to our myriad social issues – as leaders discussed the scarcity of affordable housing in Volusia and Flagler Counties.
During this period of extraordinary growth – where expensive wood-frame cracker boxes are being slapped together in the pine scrub west of I-95 and sold at an extraordinary rate – it appears our ‘powers that be’ have conveniently forgotten to make room for those who provide the all-important support services that keep our local economy afloat.
Those do-nothing hot air generators on the Volusia County Council have, for years, paid tacit lip service to the problem by labeling the shortage of affordable housing a “crisis.”
That’s an apt descriptor.
Given that 43% of the population is considered “asset limited/income restrained” in a county with a budget nearing one billion dollars (you read that right) – I’d say this has all the earmarks of a civic, social and economic catastrophe.
Screw it. Wait until those who have purchased a chip in the game get theirs – then, maybe, we’ll worry about making space for the great unwashed throngs who can’t afford the benefit of political representation. . .
In my view, since poor families typically don’t spend large portions of their limited income buying favors with campaign contributions, I won’t hold my breath waiting for our elected officials (or their wealthy overseers who really call the shots) to get off their ass and solve this growing problem for thousands of their financially strapped constituents anytime soon. . .
Angel Clark Atlanta University
Following Bethune Cookman University’s 36-15 defeat of Jackson State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Atlanta last Sunday, the Wildcats expected a quick return to Daytona Beach.
Then, uncertainty surrounding Hurricane Dorian’s path resulted in the prudent decision for the team to remain in place, leaving the 125 members of the BCU traveling party – players, coaches and support staff – stuck in their Atlanta hotel.
According to a post by the excellent CAU sportswriter Add Seymour, Jr., “That’s when a former Clark Atlanta University football player reached out to his alma mater for help.”
Bethune-Cookman’s senior associate athletic director, Reginald Thomas, is a Clark Atlanta graduate who was a four-year letterman for the Panthers’ football squad.
Given the urgent need, Thomas arranged for some incredibly sportsmanlike assistance from CAU – who opened their facilities, cafeteria and stadium to the Wildcat squad – providing a place to work out, practice and enjoy a sense of normalcy during an unpredictable time.
According to CAU Athletic Director Dr. J. Lin Dawson, “This shows us that we’re still connected and the success of one largely depends on the success of the other,” Dawson said. “We cannot overlook that. Unfortunately, crisis has a way of bringing us together, but besides that, we are joined at the hip. Their struggle is our struggle. Their triumphs are our triumphs and vice versa.”
I think Dr. Dawson just provided us all with a valuable lesson for the storms of life – a message even more powerful than hurricanes. . .
Quote of the Week
“Even though FDOT officials say they’ve identified a potential $34 million in federal funding for the DeLand station, securing the entire $80 million-plus construction cost could be a heavy lift. Gov. Ron DeSantis is not a fan of SunRail and might move to block state expenditures. Long story short: Getting the DeLand station up and running would require a lot of work on both sides.”
–The Daytona Beach News-Journal, editorial “SunRail, we need to talk,” Sunday, September 1, 2019
A decade after signing agreements creating a commuter rail service – contracts which were excruciatingly short on specifics (like how we were going to pay for it over time?) and long on financial obligations for the citizens of Volusia County – our elected and appointed dullards in DeLand are scrambling to have those commitments amended or eliminated before we get caught out.
Unfortunately, Volusia County officials command about as much respect from the Florida Department of Transportation and members of the SunRail Commission as they do from their own constituents.
Nil. Nothing. Zilcho.
Back in those heady days when Congressman John Mica was sitting on top of the world in Washington and federal transportation funding for east Central Florida was almost a foregone conclusion, county officials were swooning over all the wonderful “possibilities” SunRail would bring countywide.
Damn the consequences, “We want one!”
There was big talk of ultimately connecting Daytona Beach with the Orlando International Airport, then a scheme was devised to backdoor a “transportation oriented development” near the Debary station – that is, until smart residents pointed out that the depot was built near the Gemini Springs annex, an environmentally sensitive wetland that is now (wink-wink) “protected in perpetuity.”
My ass. . .
Now, John Mica is out-to-pasture, plans for extending rail service to DeLand long-ago derailed (pun intended), the current Governor has no appetite for commuter rail and Volusia County’s portion of the multi-million-dollar SunRail bill is quickly coming home to roost.
So, our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, has done perhaps the only thing I have agreed with since he slithered into office nearly four-years ago, and told our “partners” on the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission that we want out of this steaming mess sooner rather than later.
My God. What a shit show. . .
I suspect FDOT and SunRail knew all along if they ignored us long enough – treated us like the redheaded stepchildren they’ve always considered us – we would eventually crawfish on the original agreement, concede our seat on the board, and leave the adults in the room alone.
The fact is, Volusia County was never relevant to the regional discussion – on this topic or any other – and successful Central Florida communities snicker under their breath and consider us more of a cautionary tale, the Jeffrey Lebowski character, a ne’er-do-well best avoided.
Given our abysmal track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of success – and our reputation as a place where malleable politicians are bought and sold like livestock – I doubt we will ever be considered a serious partner in places where people still care about competence, economic success and good governance.
Regardless, our deadbeat back-peddling on SunRail was the right thing to do.
Let’s keep this folly in mind the next time someone suggests that Volusia County make long-term financial obligations to address regional issues in the future – you can bet our “partners” will. . .
And Another Thing!
I can assure you this – despite the natural fear and anxiety that comes from an approaching hurricane – no one had more pure fun this week than I did.
As most of you know, I retired from a lifetime in the police service over five years ago (wow, how time flies) and I’ve missed that part of my life and personal identity each and every day since.
To salve the transition to “civilian” life – I kept my Florida law enforcement certification active as a part-time officer with my former agency – the Holly Hill Police Department. Out of respect for current Chief Steve Aldrich, Deputy Chief Jeff Miller and the wonderful men and women who currently serve with such distinction – I don’t come around much anymore.
I had my career. Now, it’s their time to shine.
But during weather emergencies, I have the absolute pleasure of volunteering my time and what’s left of my talents to serve the community I love so dearly.
Beginning Tuesday morning, as the affects of Hurricane Dorian (such as they were) began to be felt in our area, with Patti and the dogs safely evacuated, I packed the Lone Eagle with supplies and launched on an incredibly rewarding Busman’s Holiday.
Over the next two days, I spent many wonderful hours in the company of the most dedicated professionals I’ve ever known – from the outstanding leadership of City Manager Joe Forte and his senior staff – to the first responders and emergency management staffers who demonstrated such extraordinary commitment, everyone was so welcoming – and made me feel part of things (even when I knew I was in the way. . .)
Before the storm, Mayor Chris Via joined his colleagues in demonstrating the kind of participatory leadership he’s become known for – helping fill sandbags, providing up-to-the-minute preparedness information on social media and supporting appreciative constituents – and even contributed to a nationally broadcast CBS news segment!
Truly hometown heroes.
During my all too brief tour, I had the opportunity to spend time on patrol – even handled a call for service under the watchful eye of the on-duty sergeant – and spent time reminiscing with former colleagues, marveling at the new technology, swapping war stories of storms past – and enjoyed pizza and laughs with some great young officers who were hired after I retired, men and women who are keeping the best traditions and customs of my beloved service alive.
I marveled at how efficiently Holly Hill officers worked with other agencies – especially the near-seamless interaction with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – whose deputies provided invaluable support to all municipal agencies during the event.
Look, I don’t wish these hyper-dramatic events on anybody – but damn if it didn’t do my beat-up old heart good to spend a few hours in a very special place that still feels like home.
If you currently serve in law enforcement or the public service cherish every moment.
I know it sounds weird now, but there will come a time when you will truly miss the opportunity to contribute to your community in such an essential and meaningful way.
To the officers and command staff of the Holly Hill Police Department, thank you for allowing this washed-up old “has-been” to get back in the saddle – even if just for a few precious and long-remembered moments.
It meant more than you know. . .
Have a wonderful weekend, friends!