FEMA uses Florida Sea Base facility as search-and-rescue staging area after Hurricane Irma

Left: Brinton Environmental Center, part of the Florida Sea Base. Right: Steve Dohman, the FEMA agent who was the commander at the FEMA staging area set up at Brinton.

After Hurricane Irma made landfall on the Florida Keys, the Federal Emergency Management Agency used one of the BSA’s Florida Sea Base facilities as the staging area for search-and-rescue efforts.

With permission from Sea Base general manager Mike Johnson, FEMA brought 80 people — from Florida and from the Los Angeles Fire Department — to the Brinton Environmental Center, which is the Sea Base’s satellite facility on Summerland Key, right near where Irma made landfall.

In true Scouting fashion, the FEMA team “left the location better than they found it,” Johnson says. They even left behind a thank-you note and a genuine FEMA search-and-rescue uniform. Johnson plans to frame both to display in the galley at the Brinton Environmental Center. It’ll be a nice way to remember the post-Irma rebuilding effort.

FEMA workers swept and mopped rooms before departing. They moved storm surge debris. They secured a broken gas line. They organized all the tables under the galley, where FEMA workers had their meals. They stacked the kayaks.

The unit was self-contained, bringing in its own generators and fans so as not to expend the base’s resources. Well, they did drink some of the base’s coffee, but they left behind money for what they used — a gesture Johnson called “totally unnecessary.”

FEMA donated those fans to Sea Base. They also left behind pallets of water and a few cases of MREs, or meals ready to eat, “because they thought Scouts should experience them,” Johnson says.

“They were an absolute class act,” he says.

What the note said

Thank you for allowing FEMA Urban Search & Rescue California Task Force I for using your facility as our base camp.

We are donating these fans to the facility as a token of our appreciation.

Sorry for the damage caused by Hurricane Irma. I know … the leadership of the Boy Scouts [will] start the healing process and recovery of the Keys community.

Good luck and God bless.

The condition of Brinton Environmental Center

After the road to the Lower Keys reopened, Johnson was able to assess the damage to the BEC. Steve Dohman (pictured at the top of this post), the FEMA agent who was the commander at the location, gave him a tour of the aftermath. Here’s what Johnson saw:

Building condition: BEC fared very well. “The place was built to withstand a category 5 storm, and it did,” he says. There is minor damage to the roof of a dorm, the downstairs of all dorms took storm surge damage (impacting storage for snorkel gear, life vests and showers). The dorm rooms and rooms Johnson entered showed no signs of water intrusion, but he’ll do a thorough walkthrough to be sure.

Boats: All boats are fine. There is some damage to the plexiglass in some Dusky cockpits, but overall, the boats fared well.

Vans: Given the storm surge, there may be damage to the vans.

Electric: The BEC does not have electricity and likely won’t for another four to six days. It does not have water, and there is no estimate of when it may be restored. Once restored, it will be nonpotable, which is the case in the entire Keys right now.

General clean-up: There are a lot of downed trees. There’s debris in the water in the marina, debris near the maintenance shed from storm surge, dead mangroves that have been denuded that are next to the property, etc.

Other updates

When clean-up help will be needed: When Johnson is ready, he’ll coordinate with Kevin Dowling for a crew from Philmont to help with clean-up. Timing for help from volunteers is still too early to determine.

Sea Base reservations: Read this post for the latest on that. (Scroll to the subheading “What’s the latest on how this will affect Sea Base reservations?”)

Tropical Storm Maria: The storm is southeast of the windward island and on the same track as Irma. It is expected to become a hurricane, and until more is known, Sea Base will leave storm shutters up on nonessential buildings. “I also am cautious of bringing in too many people that we might have to evacuate in seven to 10 days,” Johnson says.

“Overall the staff did a great job in preparing for this storm. We learned a lot, and hopefully it’s a while before we go through this again,” he says.

Sea Base after Irma: The story so far

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.