Florida editorial roundup
By The Associated Press
Sep. 13, 2017
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Ledger of Lakeland on a sheriff's decision to bar sex offenders from hurricane shelters:
It remains remarkable, and a tad perplexing, that law enforcement officials can ignite controversy by indicating they will do their jobs — that is, enforce the law. Yet, it is such, as Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has discovered.
Judd stirred a nationwide ruckus on Sept. 6, which continued to boil on Sept. 7, by announcing that some folks' port in the pending storm may be a jail cell.
Judd announced via Twitter that deputies would check the identification of those who seek harbor from Hurricane Irma at an emergency shelter in Polk County. He also tweeted, "We cannot and we will not have innocent children in a shelter with sexual offenders & predators. Period." In another tweet, the sheriff added, "If you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we'll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail."
Thousands ripped Judd on Twitter. Some of the nicer critics labeled him a "monster," ''repugnant," ''disgusting" and "deplorable." Among them was the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which blasted Judd for "burnishing his Joe-Arpaio-style 'tough-cop' credentials with a series of irresponsible tweets."
The ACLU said most fugitives are sought on warrants for nonviolent or "low-level" offenses that pose no risk to others.
"Sheriff Judd's threatening tweets send the message that these individuals must choose between facing a natural disaster without aid and shelter or going to jail over things like unpaid parking tickets," the ACLU added. "This will endanger the lives of not only those who avoid shelters but also the lives of first responders under Sheriff Judd's charge who will have to rescue the people he just told to stay in harm's way."
On one hand, if that situation arises, what do the ACLU and others think Judd's deputies will do with such people if they must rescue them in the storm? If they are wanted for crimes, will they not go to jail anyway? As Judd told The Ledger, "There is no amnesty for violating the law. If you have an outstanding warrant and come to the shelter, we have a legal obligation to arrest you."
On the other hand, Judd has done nothing like what the ACLU accuses him of doing. As the sheriff told reporters in the wake of the criticism, that obligation to arrest those wanted on warrants extends to wherever deputies encounter them. In this case, he's giving registered sex offenders and fugitives from justice — and that is what they are, regardless of the offense — advance warning so they can go elsewhere. Polk is bordered by 10 counties. We have not heard yet of the others checking for criminal histories. Surely, a fugitive could find shelter in one of them during Irma.
Let's consider Judd's point in a different light.
The sheriff's not referring to casting a wary eye on people from just Polk County. As Irma approaches, Polk County could very well be a destination for thousands and thousands of people evacuating from South Florida. Unless the Sheriff's Office takes precautions, emergency management officials, relief workers and shelter volunteers will have no idea who they are dealing with. All could be upstanding citizens. But some may not be.
Recently, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the liberal news website Vox reported on a study by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center that found when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit New Orleans in 2005, almost a third of sexual assaults reported during that time occurred in evacuation shelters. During those storms, Vox noted, "Shelters were the most common site of reported sexual violence."
Imagine the reaction if a wanted crook whose identification is not checked takes refuge in a Polk shelter and afflicts mayhem on Irma-fleeing innocents, especially women or children. Think Twitter commenters and media analysts would have a few choice names for Judd then?
"Never before did I think that we'd be beat up for giving people a warning and keeping people safe," Sheriff Judd told a reporter.
Neither did we, sheriff, neither did we.
The Miami Herald on lessons residents can learn from Hurricane Irma:
South Florida took a hit, but not a fatal one, from killer Hurricane Irma, as so many had feared.
We're discovering how deeply wounded are the Florida Keys, particularly the Middle Keys just as the winter tourist season nears.
As we clean up and try to return to some form of normalcy, here are some observations:
? We don't want to hear criticism that the National Hurricane Center and TV meteorologists sent us into hysterics over Irma unnecessarily. That they cried wolf to send us into a buying, fleeing frenzy. That's baloney. These folks are pros, and in many ways, heroes. Sure, some residents stayed in their 25th-floor condo and survived. They lucked out. Anyone who has lived in South Florida and watched hurricanes come down the "Cape Verde pike" knows Irma, with that unblinking eye and tightly wound like an MMA fighter's fist meant business from the start.
Not to mention it was massive and would not weaken. Whether staying or leaving, any smart veteran South Floridian would have taken Irma seriously.
? Case in point: We have never seen so many locals flee the area to higher, safer ground, leaving the state, even. Not for Andrew, not for Wilma or David or Betsy. It's a testament to how seriously smart people took the gravity of Irma's predicted force.
? We've come a long way from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when we were so complacent about a storm actually hitting us. This time, we stocked up, boarded up, or pulled up stakes and hit the road — and with good reason.
? Thankfully, for South Florida at least, Irma did what hurricanes often do: It wobbled and leaned away at the last minute — and we mean the last minute — sparing us, as has been the case many times before.
? Gov. Rick Scott did a solid job in keeping Floridians abreast of the news. His message was on point: You can replace stuff, you cannot replace a life. Skeptical Floridians have said he was just campaigning for a job in the Senate. That's irrelevant. He was tireless and showed leadership.
? What's with the construction cranes in downtown Miami? Three snapped. No one died, but that was just luck. Government officials have been cowed by the construction industry for too long and failed to insist upon stronger crane codes. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado is right: "its development in the future versus tropical storms or hurricanes," he told the Herald. "We just cannot gamble on the wind."
? Credit FPL: Its legion of local and out-of-town workers sprang into action as soon as it was safe, restoring power to some areas the same day it was lost. Bravo. FPL indeed has worked diligently to harden its system. In many ways, it showed.
Still, as of Tuesday night, an estimated 13 million Floridians were without power. Utilities will have to be transparent and accurate in their communications with increasingly hot and frustrated customers so they don't reach for their pitchforks and torches.
? It's too late to turn back the clock, but unmitigated waterfront development is a non-starter. Flooding on Brickell Avenue — a river ran through it, really — was one more warning.
? It seems bad communication, a misunderstanding, led to shortage of American Red Cross volunteers at some county shelters set up in public schools. Let's get this straightened out. Hurricane season is far from over.
The Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale on how Florida Power and Light should help Hurricane Irma victims:
For all the money Florida Power and Light spent on its "smart grid" system, you'd think the power company could better communicate with the 1.5 million South Florida home and business owners who remain without power in Hurricane Irma's aftermath.
Instead, about 48 hours after the storm's passage, FPL issued a blanket statement Tuesday saying customers on Florida's east coast could expect power restored by the end of the weekend.
The end of the weekend? Any chance we might see the details in that timeline? Understanding the restoration's rollout would better help those of us still sweating in the dark prepare for the days ahead.
Communications were no better on the mobile app that FPL encouraged us to download before Irma's arrival. Some of us were told the power was on, when it was off. Some of us were told crews were on the way, when none had appeared a day later. And some of us who plugged our addresses into the "outage report" received a message saying outages didn't need to be reported. Tuesday, the company's website said we should re-report all outages and apologized for the snafu.
Neither is FPL's "Power Tracker" much help in tracking when we might see power again. All it shows, by county, is the number of customers who still lack power and how many have had power restored. Such a map does nothing to help anxious people anticipate when they might get power restored.
Now consider that as part of its $3 billion smart-grid upgrade a few years back, FPL installed smart meters on each of our homes and businesses to tell its crews how much power we're using or whether we've lost power.
With that upgrade — largely funded by us, its ratepayers — came this promise: "The smart grid allows customers to be updated by text or phone on the cause and restoration time once their power goes out."
So what happened?
If a TV weatherman can tell us when a storm cell will pass over our house, why can't FPL tell us when it expects to focus on restoring power to our neighborhood?
We understand that unforeseen complications can arise. Stuff happens. But FPL crews carry iPads to regularly report updates to headquarters. Why can't that information be shared?
The best information we've gotten goes like this. First, FPL wants to ensure its power plants are working, which they are, except for those deliberately taken out of service for other reasons. Second, it wants to assess damage to its transmission lines, substations and concrete poles, which a spokesman said Tuesday survived surprisingly well. And third, it wants to focus on hospitals, police and fire stations, emergency communications centers and major thoroughfares.
It's the fourth step — the focus on specific neighborhoods — that needs to be fleshed out.
FPL seems reluctant to share that information because it doesn't want to alert looters to neighborhoods without power. "For public safety, we don't go down into individual neighborhoods," CEO Eric Silagy said Tuesday.
But failing to provide information risks public safety in other ways. Some people are staying in dangerously darkened homes because they expect the lights to reappear any minute. And some are navigating roads with failed stoplights to check and recheck their homes for power.
FPL's customers are frustrated. For proof, look no further than its social media sites.
Look we get that Hurricane Irma was a big storm and in many ways, FPL has performed admirably. It pre-staged crews to respond the moment roads were passable. It recruited close to 20,000 people to help restore power. And within a day of the storm's passage, it had restored power to 40 percent of customers, including those who lost power when at-risk substations were deliberately brought down.
In many ways, FPL deserves applause. All those trucks on the highway give the feeling that the cavalry has arrived.
But when this is all over, FPL's performance will rightly face questions, and that includes its communications plan.
For beyond individual convenience, the performance of this utility — granted a monopoly in 35 Florida counties — greatly matters to our state's economy.
And though it appears to be doing much right, when it comes to communicating with businesses and homeowners, its performance doesn't match the promise.