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Minnesota and Hurricane Irma: 'Just call me, and I’ll be there'

Oct. 2, 2017

Photo of relief supplies for hurricane survivors in the Florida Keys.
Photo: One of the seven points of distribution set up by a group from Minnesota’s All Hazards Incident Management Team to provide relief for survivors of Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys.

Harvey. Irma. Maria. You have no doubt looked on in helplessness as the horrors from recent hurricanes unfold in photos and videos. It’s natural to want to help your fellow humans in times of disaster, which makes it that much harder to feel that there’s so little you can do.

It may help to know, then, that Minnesota has heeded the call of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) after Irma made landfall in Florida. EMAC is a mutual aid agreement among all 50 states. Here’s how it works: A requesting state asks for specific resources, such as people or equipment, based on their needs. Then, agencies in other states with those resources are able to respond to a request, but there is no obligation to participate. In Minnesota’s case, the Department of Public Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) division coordinates EMAC requests.

Photo of Minnesotans who provided hurricane relief in Florida posing in front of a cargo plane.So when Irma started lurking around Florida’s shores, a Minnesota All Hazards Incident Management Team (AHIMT) packed up and headed south. That specific AHIMT consists of 80 people, but a smaller group was chosen based on the mission’s needs. Gov. Mark Dayton authorized their deployment on September 8, two days before the hurricane made landfall. The team, which consists of 16 emergency management professionals (think firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, and retired military), arrived in Marathon, FL on September 13.

The team reported plenty of damage but no communications, cell service, electricity or running water. Their mission was to help county emergency management establish seven points of distribution (POD) over an 89-mile stretch of the Florida Keys. PODs are where the public goes to pick up emergency supplies and basic necessities, such as food and water, following a disaster.

Eden Prairie Fire Chief George Esbensen was the incident commander for this mission, and says he and his team were happy to represent the state of Minnesota in helping Irma survivors. “We are very grateful for the opportunity and humbled by it. We saw a lot of people at a deeper level of need and we were able to provide a stop gap of food and water to help them.”

The AHIMT wasn’t the only Minnesota contingency helping Irma victims. Gov. Dayton also issued an executive order that sent 41 Minnesota Air National Guard and six National Guard members to support response efforts.

So next time you feel unable to help after a disaster, remember that the EMAC exists to help our fellow Americans on their worst days. If Minnesota can fulfill those specific requests, our emergency management professionals are ready to take action and heed the call for help. It’s a commitment to public service that we can all be proud of.