Article Courtesy of The Palm
By Kristina Webb
Published September 14, 2018
A year ago, we were still cleaning up our yards after Hurricane Irma. We were
pulling down plywood and propping up fences. And we were eagerly awaiting the
opening rounds of debris collection by village crews.
This week marks a year since the storm skimmed past Palm Beach County, making
landfall first in the Keys and then on Florida’s Gulf Coast. We were spared the
worst of Irma’s wrath — but that doesn’t mean there weren’t lessons to be
learned from the storm.
In Wellington, many of those lessons
centered on debris removal. The village faced the herculean
task of collecting and disposing of about 180,000 cubic
yards of vegetative debris, a two-monthlong cleanup with a
nearly $3.5 million price tag.
The biggest lesson learned by Wellington: Get paperwork and
authorization for debris removal from gated communities
before even the hint of a storm, Village Manager Paul
“Absent those approvals, we cannot go
into gated communities to get debris,” he said.
This year, the village coordinated with
the Federal Emergency Management Agency to have gated
communities and homeowners associations sign an essential
form, a right-of-entry agreement, before hurricane season
began. Having that in advance gives Wellington breathing
room after a storm so officials aren’t chasing down board
members, Schofield said.
Alvin Rushin of Georgia helps clean up Hurricane Irma
debris on Fallview Way in Wellington on Sept. 27, 2017.
Another lesson learned: The village now will check in with its
debris-removal contractors in the days before a storm hits to make sure
those contracts can be fulfilled.
When Irma scraped across Florida, it caused damage in all 67 counties and
created a massive demand for debris-cleanup crews. That, plus the existing
demand in the Gulf states from the devastation created by Hurricane Harvey,
put Wellington in a pickle in the days after Irma, Schofield said.
“There just weren’t enough debris contractors to go around,” he said.
Wellington also changed the way it monitors the debris it collects. Instead
of using a cumbersome paper-ticketing system, the Village Council in May
approved a contract to bring in a service that electronically keeps track of
how much debris is collected.
That change was key not only to creating a more efficient cleanup process
but also to getting money back from FEMA, Schofield said. “If you don’t have
really great documentation, they will not reimburse you,” he said.
The storm also managed to bring neighbors together online in a new way.
Bob Markey, a longtime western communities resident and Realtor whose family
once owned and ran the weekly Town-Crier newspaper, started two Facebook
groups a couple of years ago to help people stay in touch following a
hurricane. Those groups, Wellington Florida Speaks and Royal Palm Beach
Speaks, proved key to staying connected and up-to-date throughout Hurricane
Residents used the groups to share information about storm prep, supply
availability and damage. “There is nothing like a hurricane to bring back
that sense of community which many of us have lost in this era of political
civil war,” Markey said.
His groups, which combined have 5,000 members, allow people to instantly
share information. “Social media and our groups have truly enabled citizen
journalism to take off,” he said.