Oct 12, 2016
UF/IFAS Extension steps up as ‘second responders’ after Matthew

As Hurricane Matthew dumped water and wind on Florida’s east coast last week, it wasn’t long before several alligators were spotted roaming the parking lot at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension Brevard County office. But alligators or no alligators, the two faculty members hunkered down in the facility weren’t about to leave their posts any time soon.

“We have a very large generator at the office that we needed to keep running during the storm in case people at the county facilities lost power and had to move to our facility,” said Linda Seals, director of UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County.

Seals’ staff weren’t the only ones hard at work helping residents and emergency personnel weather the storm. From housing evacuated livestock to manning the phones at local emergency operations centers, UF/IFAS Extension faculty across the state put in many long hours and a few sleepless nights keeping people safe and informed.

“We serve 20 million Floridians year-round in our day jobs, but in a crisis we work 24/7 to help those most in need” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “We demonstrated all weekend long how much we value our relationships. Our actions told our communities that this isn’t just a job to us. This was about helping friends, neighbors and community members.”

For instance, Sharon Treen, director for UF/IFAS Extension Putnam and Flagler Counties, spent 53 hours over four days at the Flagler County EOC, while her staff assistant Martha Creamer worked 12-hour days and even took a night shift at the call center. Other Putnam and Flagler faculty assisted with food distribution and animal evacuations.

Meanwhile, at the Seminole County EOC, Barbara Hughes, director of UF/IFAS Extension Seminole County, and other faculty and staff were busy helping county employees with logistics, planning and public information. “We were working 12 hours on, 12 hours off — but when our shifts were over, we still had to stay in the EOC, so we slept on the floor under desks,” Hughes said.

In addition to acting as a community resource, UF/IFAS Extension agents play an important role in documenting and reporting damage to the state’s agriculture industry.

For example, over the weekend agriculture agents with UF/IFAS Extension Volusia County began assess damage to the county’s citrus, fern and livestock industries. “Our fern industry has been seriously hit and is a top priority for us right now,” said Dennis Mudge, director of UF/IFAS Extension Volusia County. The county has lost about 50 percent of its citrus, he said, and many livestock owners are dealing with damaged fencing.

Saqib Mukhtar, UF associate dean for Extension and agricultural programs leader, reports agents’ damage assessments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This information helps the USDA assist hard-hit areas through grants and programming, said Bonnie Wells, agriculture agent with UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns County, who likewise spent the last few days visiting farms and assessing losses.

“Many farmers in St. Johns County and the Hastings area have experienced large or total losses of their crops due to the storm,” Wells said. “As agriculture agents, we are ‘second responders’—after the first responders make sure everyone is safe, we come and try to help producers get back on their feet.”

Samantha Grenrock, University of Florida

Source: University of Florida Extension

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