Prepared for Emergency

Letters

BY JONATHAN LEWIS SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY APR 3, 2021

It’s been over a year since our Emergency Operations Center was activated in response to COVID-19, an activation that continues in 2021.

Those first days and weeks of COVID-19 were daunting. Each day, sometimes each hour, we were presented with new challenges that required county staff to think quickly and strategically, all while facing a threat that was largely unknown.

Their efforts were key, because like the rest of the nation, if not all nations, we had to ask ourselves how to strike a balance between continuing to serve the community, while protecting the health and safety of those we serve.  

After all, the world class service we provide to our residents could not suddenly stop. Even as Governor DeSantis issued an executive order for a month-long lock-down last April, we still had to keep the water flowing, the streetlights working, and our permitting offices open, to name a few.

We worked to make the necessary adjustments during that time. As preventative measures we issued upgraded Personal Protective Equipment to our emergency services personnel, temporarily closed beaches and playgrounds, and canceled events we knew would draw large crowds. This allowed us the opportunity to devise a plan to keep moving forward.

Our public libraries, for instance, were a challenge. They are so vital as community hubs and play a pivotal role in the daily lives of many. We had to figure out ways to allow the public to access our library services while still focusing on safety. 

So, we started with offering curb-side pickup for materials, which allowed patrons to still have access to physical copies of their favorite authors and educational information. We emphasized our online resources, utilized social media to provide story-time and other programs, and even used our Creation Stations to sew masks to help protect folks from COVID-19.

This is the approach we took with all of our departments. Each time county staff was challenged to find alternative and unique solutions to this unprecedented position we found ourselves in, they rose to the occasion. Our entire county can be proud of their efforts. 

Yet, as we worked through those challenges, others arose last year; Sarasota County helped to dispense federal CARES Act funds, faced the threat of Hurricane Eta, and began assisting the Florida Department of Health – Sarasota with the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines; 2020 was busy, to say the least.

We were not perfect in dealing with new and unknown challenges but at every corner of the county our employees stepped up. When something did not work, they made changes so it would be better.

As time has passed, we have looked at many of our changes and realized that even post COVID many of these adjustments will allow us to better serve our community in the future. Many things have changed, no doubt. But I also believe that the one thing that has not changed is the ways in which county staff demonstrates the true meaning of public service.

What I have seen is a commitment to helping those who need it the most. I have also seen a commitment to keeping us moving. Our road and utility crews are hard at work, our emergency personnel are hurrying to potentially save lives, our solid waste crews keep our landfills open and operating, and our parks team helps keep our open spaces open while supporting health and safety. It has truly been inspiring. I have seen our communications team endlessly working on how they can better inform our community in a time of the unknown, and our health and human services department focusing on how they can help support our neighbors. Plus, so many more.

As of this writing, it is unknown how long our EOC will be activated for these events. But I have confidence we will keep finding that balance we first sought a year ago.

It has been challenging; but as we continue to follow the leadership of our county commissioners, and guidance from our state and federal partners, we’ll continue to chart a course that, while still filled with unknowns, allows us to keep moving forward as an organization and a community.

Jonathan Lewis is Sarasota County Administrator.

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