With Hurricane Irma, one of the largest and most dangerous storms in decades, heading toward the state of Florida after decimating Caribbean islands, it's unsurprising that residents of the Sunshine State are preparing for the worst. With an unprecedented 5.6 million people ordered to evacuate from the path of the storm, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency preparing to help those affected after the worst hits, it's hard to avoid some level of confusion and chaos as the third largest state braces for impact. Luckily, there is a page set up by FEMA to debunk false Hurricane Irma rumors.
For instance, FEMA's website makes sure to clarify policy on pets in advance of the storm for those who have to flee the storm. According to FEMA's website, pets are required to be admitted and cared for by emergency shelters, according to a 2006 law passed by Congress, but that hotels and motels where people might be riding out the storm are not covered by the same act. FEMA recommends contacting a hotel or motel directly before bringing pets.
FEMA's website also issues a warning about fuel shortages in Florida. While it mentions that the Department of Energy is working to try to keep fuel flowing down to the state, it also states that demand for gasoline is five times normal, and that those who need it may have difficulty finding it.
One thing that the FEMA guide makes sure to warn Florida residents about is potential scams. It refers to the possibility of people claiming to be from FEMA, asking for money or personal information from hurricane victims. FEMA's website clarifies that actual FEMA employees will not charge victims for their services, and will not ask for any personal information from hurricane victims besides their identity. Anyone who asks for money or personal info, might be a scammer, and FEMA recommends contacting the Federal Trade Commission or calling the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.
FEMA also debunks the rumor that homeowners have to leave damage from the hurricane, such as sheetrock, floors, and carpeting, in place after flooding in order to receive compensation. FEMA's website instead states that homeowners should be encouraged to make whatever repairs they need to in order to fix up their property after the hurricane, and that this won't jeopardize their entitlement to reimbursement from the government. FEMA does however recommend for people to document the damage as soon as they can and before they seek repairs, including taking pictures and video, and keeping receipts for any repairs. But FEMA recommends putting health and safety first, and not waiting to repair until the agency has a chance to look at the damage itself.
FEMA also dispels the myth that there the federal government has created a list of businesses that are permitted to re-enter into disaster areas after they have been evacuated. FEMA makes it clear that that responsibility doesn't fall with the federal government but rather with state and local officials. The state of Florida has guidelines for private businesses seeking re-entry, which includes a requirement of proof of employment, as well as a demonstrated need by the business to be in the disaster area.
With Hurricane Irma coming so soon after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast (and with wildfires continuing to rage across the northwestern United States), America's emergency-response infrastructure is facing perhaps the most challenging time in its history, trying to protect millions of people from cataclysmic forces of nature. In this environment, FEMA and other emergency responders need all the hep they can get, and one way that people in the path of the storm can help themselves and the emergency responders is to keep themselves well-informed of what is happening and what they need to know.