Santa Rosa County is big on self-praise but fails at crisis communication

Posted on September 20, 2020 by EDITORIAL

Screenshot of the now-deleted post made by Santa Rosa County Emergency Management on Friday


Boy, the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commission loves to praise itself and its staff – to the point that they have paid thousands of dollars to self-nominate for awards, which they then present back to themselves boastfully during public meetings and via press releases. 

However, praise is undue for how they managed crisis communication during and after Sally. It brought back flashbacks of Ivan and the county’s poor performance during that storm.

Santa Rosa County citizens have been so frustrated by the county’s lack of appropriate communication that they started sharing a meme which depicted commissioners listed as MISSING on the side of a milk carton.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, when residents were unable to find fuel and food, Santa Rosa County Emergency Management (SRCEM) posted a “Very cool video” by a Santa Rosa resident who stated “Now is the time to go post-hurricane, whitewater rafting on Blackwater.”

Well, no, by all means it was absolutely the worst time to traverse Blackwater River. Multiple residents along that waterway had already taken to social media, begging people not to go sightseeing since water was inches away from getting into their homes and any wake could cause a breach.

That “Very cool video” post was deleted once we started questioning commissioners about why we were getting that kinda info instead of the information we truly needed – like where to find gasoline, where to get food and which specific roads might need to be evacuated ahead of the cresting of creeks and rivers.

As for locating gasoline, come to find out, the county just uses the GasBuddy app to find out where fuel is available. The problem with that app is how it relies on the public to post where they are finding gas, and the data at one point was 20 hours old.

South Santa Rosa News took a few minutes every few hours to call gas stations in our area and tried to keep the data current on our website and social media.

Another huge problem with communication was the issuance of flooding alerts to those who were not threatened. It would have been very easy instead of just saying what normally floods to specifically list which particular residences were in danger of rising flood waters by naming those sections of roadways on updates (ex: North Airport Road north of Erudition Drive, Nichols Lake Road east of Ginnie Trail).

Furthermore, SRCEM announced that the police checkpoint had been moved from the foot of Navarre Beach Bridge to west of the pier on Gulf Boulevard HOURS before the sheriff’s office moved it. That caused problems for sheriff’s office deputies staffing the checkpoint and the public, who went out to look at the beach after hearing the bridge had been reopened. It also caused problems for us since we shared the information and had to deal with a few irate citizens. Again, it doesn’t take long to make a phone call to check something out.

So perhaps the county’s public information office should slack off following around Commissioner Sam Parker like a lap dog to make ridiculous chamber of commerce style promotional videos when businesses open up. Instead they should focus on prioritizing their true mission, which we apparently need to spell out…


Ahead of the next storm, perhaps SRCEM will:

  • Familiarize workers in the Emergency Operations Center with Blackwater River, Yellow River and other county flood zones – take them on a tour of the streets therein so those particular streets can be better recognized and specifically named during a crisis. Don’t just throw out some graphic depicting the entire Yellow River watershed;
  • After the storm have workers/volunteers call gas stations on a frequent basis to find out where residents can get fuel, and push that info out to the public;
  • Try to get a better distribution of warm meals. Salvation Army and Red Cross did great in Pace and East Milton. Finally Navarre Beach will start getting some warm food tomorrow – six days after the storm and after most restaurants have reopened. Thankfully, the National Guard started distributing MREs and bottled water yesterday at Navarre High School. It reminds me of COVID testing and how the northend got that first.
  • Don’t use improper names for local places (ex: Navarre Bayside Park doesn’t exist – it is Navarre Park, and it’s located on Santa Rosa Sound, not East Bay). Also avoid industry jargon like ESF 14 (which is actually a support function and not some super duper Fujita scale for wind speed).
  • And for heavens’ sake, before/during/after a crisis do not make any unnecessary posts like a “Very cool video.”
  • The State of Florida hosts post-event critiques to self-evaluate. That certainly wouldn’t hurt either to determine what needs to START/STOP/CONTINUE.

We need for the county to be prepared ahead of a storm so that it can help its citizens during and afterward.

We need less foo foo and more substance.