Sarasota entities team to form new Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center

Posted on December 08, 2010 by Veronica Taylor

Sarasota County has been recognized in Florida and nationally for the excellent work county and local agency leaders have done in the area of disaster preparedness.

Our Sarasota COAD (Sarasota Community Organizations Active in Disaster) has been referred to as one of the best organizations of its type in the United States by Volunteer Florida and the Florida VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster).

Well, our emergency preparedness team leaders are about to bring that strong reputation up several levels.

Partnering with the Sarasota COAD and the Sarasota County Health and Human Services, the University of South Florida School of Public Health was awarded a $4.75 million grant from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a new entity in Sarasota County:  The Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center.

The center is one of 14 across the United States and will help other communities across Florida learn how to build similar community-based systems to prepare and protect their own communities in the face of disasters.  The center is expected, eventually, to draw participants from across the United States.

We know that both preparedness for disasters and immediate relief are the responsibilities of local communities and individuals within those communities.  How fortunate we are in Sarasota to have a team of leaders who have created a strong, flexible and community-based system that is constantly in the process of improvement.  That’s why it’s so important to give other Florida communities the tools necessary to build their own unique systems, based on local needs, to prepare their own communities.

Community leaders from all across Florida will learn how to establish a Community Disaster Planning Coalition that will respond to the needs of their own communities.  As an example, consider the different types of preparedness required in Charlotte County versus Sarasota County.  Local officials in Charlotte County told me that setting up a large number of evacuation shelters would not be particularly helpful in Charlotte County because of the geography of the county – land masses that are close to sea level.  So, each county or community that comes to the Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center will gain the tools that are needed to address the issues within their own community.

Right now, a planning team from Sarasota County and University of South Florida School of Public Health are building the curriculum for the two year program, with the first session due to begin this summer. Participants will take on-site (in Sarasota) courses as well as online courses, and will gain experience and tools in the areas of communication and managing information; strengthening connections and improving cross-sector connectivity; collective decision-making; and community assessment pre and post disaster.

As the planning team continues its work (they are ahead of schedule right now!) we expect to learn more details about this exciting process – yet another opportunity for Sarasota County to reach out and help our neighbors based on our own learning and work in the area of disaster preparedness and response.  And, we look forward to celebrating with local leaders and the USF team this summer, when the first group of community participants comes to Sarasota for the kickoff of this important program.

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