In the Eye of the storm


Shirrell Roberts, CISA Protective Security Advisor for Northwest Florida

Behind the Scenes: A look at CISA’s role in the Emergency Ops Center during Hurricane Ian

When living anywhere along the Gulf Coast, you become accustomed to realizing that hurricanes are a part of life. It’s not a matter of if a hurricane will hit, but rather when and how strong.  The State of Florida devotes significant time and effort each year preparing for the next hurricane.

Despite that intense preparation, every hurricane is unique, and Hurricane Ian presented a unique set of challenges as the fourth-largest hurricane to hit Florida.

In my normal day-to-day job, I’m a Protective Security Advisor (PSA), serving Tallahassee and the surrounding communities. However, when a natural disaster or other serious incident happens in Florida, I don my emergency management hat and become the face of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC). There, I work side by side with state and federal representatives from other agencies, including our partners at FEMA.  This role is part of a larger, federal response effort in support of the state.

In preparation for Hurricane Ian, the Florida EOC fully activated on Sep. 25, 2022, several days before we had a clear picture of where the storm would make landfall and exactly how strong it would be when it did. For those who have worked in a state EOC before, it’s a familiar scene: rows of desks, bustling conversations about the current situation, and a near constant stream of updates as we learned more about where Ian was heading.

As CISA’s representative to the EOC, I monitored and provided updates regarding Infrastructure of Concern (IOC), such as public utilities, hospitals, seaports or chemical facilities, whose failure could have widespread impacts on affected communities and beyond. This information was critical for the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) as they prioritize resources throughout the affected areas. My fellow PSAs constantly fed me new data on the status of IOC throughout Ian’s path and assessment updates as services were restored.

Using this data and working closely with FDEM, we were able to provide state decision makers data-based recommendations to focus some of its initial efforts on responding to damages to Florida’s fuel supply chain. Unlike most states, Florida receives a majority of its petroleum-based fuel via maritime transportation, so helping impacted ports recover and restart their operations was crucial to ensuring first responders and recovery teams had the gas and other fuels they needed to help people impacted by Ian.

We also focused a significant portion of our work on helping facilitate restoring power to critical utility providers. In one such instance in the city of Cocoa, Florida, a power outage to the city’s water delivery system left more than 300,000 customers without clean drinking water. CISA’s Florida PSA team worked with local and state agencies, as well as private sector partners, to get the system prioritized for power restoration. Within 48 hours, the water began flowing there once again.

During disaster response and recovery, CISA’s PSAs focus on helping to drive the recovery process forward by supporting the needs of critical infrastructure. There is still a long road to recovery ahead for many Florida residents who may have experienced significant upheaval. However, CISA, FEMA and the entire federal family will be there to help Floridians through this process. I am proud to have served as part of this critical effort to help them regain a sense of normalcy as the we continue to support their critical infrastructure needs.