Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush presented some of his personal lessons-learned in crisis management and disaster preparedness as advice to attendees at Wednesday’s General Session. The lessons “can be applied to any setting, whether you’re the governor, or a CSO, or the fire warden on your office floor,” Bush said.
The first lesson for attendees was that they must continue to adapt in order to get better, and never stop learning from experience. Bush, who was Florida’s governor from 1999 until 2007, recounted his time as governor in 2004 and 2005, when the state faced eight hurricanes and four tropical storms in a span of 16 months. Improvements that the state made after the storms include the creation of a program for homeowners who hurricane-proofed their homes, an increased culture of preparedness through public education campaigns, and tax holidays for disaster supplies.
The storms also spurred improved special needs shelters, the country’s first state law enforcement radio system to allow first responders and emergency coordinators to talk to each other, and other initiatives, according to Bush.
While Florida received federal government funds to help during the storms, “all the money in the world can’t do the work of a good disaster plan executed by competent and committed leaders,” Bush said. He added that “if you don’t have the pieces in place, you don’t stand a chance.”
During the hurricanes, Bush said “we took a good emergency response organization, through adaptation and trial and error, and turned it into one that I believe is the envy of the country. We got better through lessons learned.” The preparedness gained by the Florida National Guard and first responders trickled out into other states when 3,300 Florida public servants helped in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina.
Although Florida had already been through many natural disasters, including Hurricane Andrew in 1992, it was that 2004-2005 experience that helped the state progress to that next level of preparedness. Bush told Security Management in an interview after the talk that the intense experience of preparing for new storms while still recovering from the last ones “changed me; it will be there for the rest of my life.” He added, “We had a good emergency response capability before the storms…but if you have a culture that is focused on constantly improving, the experience makes you better.”