BOCC Chair Bryan Lober Details Reasons Policy Group Might Declare Local State of Emergency
By Bryan Lober, Brevard County Commission Chair // March 14, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following submission was made by Brevard County Commission Chairman Bryan Lober in his capacity as the chair of the Brevard County Policy Group, the body empowered to declare a local state of emergency in response to existing or impending emergency conditions.
By Bryan Lober, Chair of the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The Brevard County “Policy Group” is the body empowered to declare a local state of emergency in response to existing or impending emergency conditions.
The Policy Group is comprised of myself as Chair of the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners, County Manager Frank Abbate, County Attorney Eden Bentley, Public Safety Director Matt Wallace, Fire Rescue Chief Mark Schollmeyer, Emergency Management Director Kim Prosser, Sheriff Wayne Ivey, Superintendent of Brevard Public Schools Mark Mullins, representative of the Space Coast League of Cities West Melbourne City Manager Scott Morgan and the Administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Brevard Maria Stahl.
As Chair of the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners, I also serve as the Chair of the Policy Group.
The last time the Policy Group declared a local state of emergency was last year – in response to the then-impending threat of Hurricane Dorian, which was a record-breaking storm potentially capable of inflicting catastrophe.
As with most hurricanes, it was impossible to tell precisely where it would make landfall and, by extension, precisely where hurricane-force winds could be expected.
In that case, thankfully, the local state of emergency was not followed by devastation and destruction here in Brevard County. However, the declaration of the local state of emergency was not a mistake and was, in fact, a wise decision as there was no way to know, in advance, the storm’s eventual impact to Brevard County.
Just because we dodged the proverbial bullet with that storm does not mean that we should ignore the declaration of a local state of emergency.
Determining whether and/or when to declare a local state of emergency in advance of emergency conditions requires a balance between ensuring everything reasonable is being done to prepare and stage for the potential impending emergency and not causing undue alarm to residents, local businesses and tourists.
It is critical that residents and businesses listen carefully to the messaging accompanying any declaration of a local state of emergency to determine why the local state of emergency was declared and what precautions should be taken.
There are many reasons the Policy Group might declare a local state of emergency. These reasons may include:
• Helping obtain necessary supplies quickly: Procurement policy may be waived to allow for timely access to personal protective equipment for first responders and sanitation supplies for critical public buildings (e.g., courthouses, the jail, the emergency operations center, etc.).
• Removing obstacles to a timely response: The County Manager may be permitted to adjust leave policies and, if necessary, suspend union contracts in order to deal with a potential emergency.
• Providing timely access to financial resources by cutting red tape: Financial reserves may be accessed, as needed, to stage in anticipation of and, if necessary, respond to an emergency.
• Preventing abuse: Certain measures may be taken to prevent merchants from exploiting consumers by price gouging for necessary goods, services, or commodities.
• In the event of a biological threat, reducing the threat of person-to-person transmission: Mass gatherings may be limited, as necessary and appropriate.
• Streamlining intergovernmental crisis management: Measures to better coordinate consequence management, in conjunction with FDOH and BPS, may be implemented.
• Better enabling the County to seek federal reimbursement: The declaration of an LSE situates the County such that it may qualify for FEMA reimbursement that might otherwise not be available.
The declaration of a local state of emergency does not necessarily mean that each of the above-outlined options will take place. It is entirely possible that some will take place and others will not.
Importantly, the declaration of a local state of emergency, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean that residents and businesses must change their daily routine.
The declaration of a local state of emergency, which may or may not occur in the coming days, should not be taken to mean that the sky is falling.
The threat posed by COVID-19 is not remotely the same threat posed by a Category 5 hurricane – either in severity or likely death toll.
As of midnight on March 14, we have not had a single confirmed case of COVID-19 in Brevard County. Yet, we must still take reasonable steps to prepare for COVID-19 to reach Brevard County so that we, as a community, are not left desperately figuring out a response at the last minute.
COVID-19 is not Ebola. It is not Anthrax. COVID-19 is, from many measures, a lot like the flu – a disease which has claimed infinitely more lives than COVID-19 has to date.
The supposed 3 percent mortality rate is also suspect because relatively few people have been tested for the virus. Three percent is among those who tested positive – likely the sickest of the sick who reported to the hospital with symptoms.
Those with no symptoms as well as those with mild and, possibly, moderate symptoms are unlikely to seek medical attention and receive the test. Consequently, it is highly likely the mortality rate is far below 3 percent.
If you are still nervous, bear this in mind: The single most medically knowledgeable individual on the policy group, Maria Stahl, was on a cruise this week.
As perhaps the third-highest ranked individual within the Florida Department of Health umbrella – with access to tremendous information on COVID-19 – she is living her life. I chair the policy group and I was at Brevard County Sheriff’s Office’s annual award ceremony this evening.
Let’s all be sure to take reasonable precautions, including washing our hands with soap and warm water, but let’s not make ourselves crazy – even if a local state of emergency is declared.
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