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The Power of Community Safety Leadership During Irma's Crisis

September 20, 2017

There is something fascinating about the resilience of safety leaders in times of crisis: they are pillars in the community  and reminders of the value of community involvement. I am reflecting on the value of community-based efforts after witnessing the news on Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It is at times like this, when I witness ache and worry in the eyes of those near me, that I find a need to sit back and absorb these stories and events in their full depth. In taking a closer look at Florida, going layer by layer, its stories unveil a powerful narrative of safety leadership among the tireless actions to shelter and heal its residents.

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The statistics of Hurricane Irma are chill-giving: FloridaDisaster.org reports that the height of power outages reached 6.7 million homes and businesses on Monday, September 11, with 2.5 million still affected the following Thursday. Countless homes were left without power, mobility, and easy access to food and resources: this translates to overwhelming temperatures for children and the elderly, deep emotional distress, and more unsettling uncertainties. What pushes leaders to act for their community's safety in such complex and dangerous situations?

The stories from Miami show that a powerful blend of resilience and safety commitment behind these actions. In the aftermath of the storm, I find an important lesson in Florida residents' response to Irma: one of community-focused leadership for safety and acts of caring. With neighborhoods, states, and foreign countries coming together to support Florida's relief efforts, a few examples have made a powerful impression on me.

Miami’s first responder teams’ strategies and execution of help showed an admirable dedication to ensuring the safety and care of their city. In particular, Charles Cyrille, Deputy Director of the County's Office of Emergency Management, strikes me as an important figure of safety leadership in Miami. A Time article presents an example of his team's initiative in assisting a senior living center: when the building's "elevators were disabled, leaving its residents unable to access meals," Cyrille’s team "deployed ambulance drivers to deliver box lunches to the facility." The director of the Miami-Dade Police Department was quoted in the same article saying that "the responsibility of each department matters little when it comes to saving lives. If we can save lives, we can step in and fill the void." I am moved by their quick-actions to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable with limited resources and their only mission: a collective experience of safety. This commitment to a detailed support of communities is remarkable and speaks of the personalized efforts that transform people's experience of safety, even at a time of crisis, into a wholesome experience of collective caring.

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This transformation is ongoing and didn't stop with first responders. Many stepped up into leading roles in their communities and lent a hand to ensure that Florida residents could heal from the storm in safe conditions and stable environments. The Miami Herald highlighted the example of a group of women and girls preparing meals for Miami Gardens residents. Working on a different front, this group showed a similar commitment to Cyrille's team: one that viewed a community in need of help and was prepared to serve its essential needs to ensure its safety. There is something reassuring and inspiring about their gathering around in a group effort for the health of their neighborhood; it defines safety as an act of empathy. Even at a dramatic time of need, volunteerism powers a concept of self that stretches beyond someone's individual being to encompass a community in a deeply personal way. The effort of these women, amongst thousands of other volunteers, is at the foundation of the resilience that bonds and strengthens our communities.

While millions regain access to electric power, Irma has brought to light something important: a deeply rooted commitment to safety leadership across the Sunshine State. In crisis times, these leaders are key in keeping people together and supporting their effort to rebuild their environments. The example of the teams that came to the support and rescue of thousands of Floridians is deeply admirable and should inspire leadership in safety, even outside the context of hurricane landfalls. This is the powerful lesson I've learned and wish to pay forward, to foster a continued commitment to safety in my own community.

[If you're interested in getting involved with relief efforts in response to Hurricane Harvey and Irma, consider supporting the Red Cross or other organizations with a donation].

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Giulia Prete Giulia Prete was the Marketing Coordinator for Safety Solutions at PSI.