Palm Coast - It seemed like it was never coming, but it was.

Hurricane Dorian churned in the Atlantic Ocean for days. Food and water flew off grocery store shelves. Gas became a hot commodity. Eyes and ears were laser focused on each storm update from the National Hurricane Center.

From the moment the storm came on the City of Palm Coast's radar, your City mobilized in many ways. Parks were prepped. Roads were cleared. Trees were trimmed. Canals were lowered. Sewer pipes were tested. Sandbags dispersed. And trash was picked up - among many preparations.

All 400 employees immediately took action to get equipment and supplies in place-generators, computers, food and more-for staff to be ready to respond to Dorian's potential wrath. For some of them, that meant doing things outside of their normal 8-to-5 routine. But no matter what changes each day brought - your City was prepared.

Crews prepping a City park
Sandbags delivered for residents to take home

From Fire Captain to Emergency Management Coordinator

Palm Coast Fire Capt. Tommy Ascone is normally guiding a team of firefighters who respond to fires and car crashes. As captain, he runs day-to-day operations in a command role.

When Dorian's path was projected to possibly impact this community, he transitioned to his other job title: Emergency Management Coordinator, a role Palm Coast didn't have until 2019.

Capt. Ascone stands by for a storm briefing
Ascone with Congressman Mike Waltz

In this role, Tommy coordinated between all City departments for storm preparations and through recovery and response: updating staff on the latest weather reports, identifying essential personnel, creating a food unit, establishing an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the main fire station, developing a daycare plan with Parks & Rec for employees to continue working while schools were closed.

For the first time in the City's history, Tommy constructed a mini City Hall of technology with computers and phones at the EOC. He also coordinated resources between the City and County to ensure your City had everything necessary to respond to the storm and to recover after it.

It didn't stop there.

While many of Tommy's tasks throughout the week prior to Hurricane Dorian were part of being the City's certified Emergency Management Coordinator, some of his other actions weren't taught in a class but made a huge difference to staff, like providing reassurance and calm guidance to customer service representatives and thanking them for their hard work.

24/7 - We Were Here for You - All You Had to Do is Call…

Thanks to extended hours through Labor Day weekend and 24-hour open phone lines in the hours before Dorian finally passed by, the City's Customer Service representatives were here for you. The team worked around the clock to make sure questions were answered and did so with smiles on their faces.

Customer Service team at the EOC

The team is usually staffed at City Hall from 8-to-5. They answer about 10,000 phone calls a month - mostly those that relate to Utility services including billing, setting up service and citizen support. They also process Utility payments.

For Dorian, there was no reporting to City Hall. Instead, many of them left their families to be at the City EOC in a makeshift Customer Service phone center. They answered over 3,000 calls in five days. Customer Service Supervisor Lisa Asbill worked 39 hours in two days - staying upbeat and keeping her team's morale high.

Lisa Asbill at the EOC

Customer Service Reps Tracey Hodges, Pam Miller, Lucy Nabico and others found themselves answering calls unique to the storm about shelters, evacuations, garbage collection, sandbags and curfews. There were other calls, too, about which businesses were open, non-emergency fire calls, and questions about EMS courtesy transports to shelters. Some residents simply dialed in needing a comforting voice or some reassurance-even at 2 a.m.  

Customer Service rep trying to sleep

There were cots, but not much sleeping. The adrenaline, combined with anticipation, kept many of them awake even when the phones were relatively quiet. Pam, who doesn't drink coffee, said she stayed awake with the help of both M&M's and her colleagues.

In these times, coworkers begin to feel more like family. Tracey earned the title "Positivity Enforcer" by cheering on the team throughout Tuesday night when many worked longer than 24 hours straight, repeatedly telling them, "We got this. It's gonna be a great night."  

Tracey Hodges and another Customer Service team member

Records by Day, Culinary Queen by Night

As City Clerk, Virginia Smith manages Palm Coast records for the state of Florida. You can usually find her in her office at City Hall or at City Council meetings sitting next to the Council members.

Virginia is responsible for recording motions, taking minutes and responding to Council member questions as they relate to agenda items. She is also the qualifying officer for elections, the paralegal, and reviews contracts and land acquisition documents for the City as well as communicating regularly with the City legal team.

In short: Virginia always wears many different hats. For Dorian, she donned a Chef's hat.

Virginia and her team of 20 organized to feed and hydrate 400 City employees working before, during, and after Dorian. She led the "Culinary Command" serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and plenty of snacks, consisting of: hot dogs and mac n' cheese, ham and turkey with potato casserole, chili, sandwiches, chips, veggies and (most importantly to Fire Chief Jerry Forte) ample jars of strawberry preserves.

The team spent days organizing water and snacks by visiting multiple local stores and then delivering the supplies to fire stations around the City and the Public Works facility. It was a success, though a few pairs of Virginia's pants were marked by mayonnaise and spaghetti sauce in the process.

Photo: Groceries to feed City employees
City employees making a meal for staff
Virginia Smith with other food prep staff

The Meaning of Preparation

To most, preparation seems to start when a storm's path is projected to impact the City, but for your City, storm preparedness happens all year round.

For example, City Stormwater teams began educating the public on a new Stormwater Management Plan adopted by Mayor Milissa Holland and the City Council at the beginning of 2019. The plan took the new approach of improving swales, ditches, canals, water-control structures, pipes and drainage basins by looking at how these systems work together to protect homes and businesses from flooding.

New, proactive solutions focus more on the ditches and freshwater canals and how they have a greater long-term impact on improving the drainage system across Palm Coast.

Tommy graduated from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) National Emergency Management Basic Academy at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in June. He began working to improve the City Emergency Management Plan (CEMP) at that time, to ensure the best preparation and response by the City for these types of events.

Later in the summer, employees from multiple City departments began chainsaw training. This was vital to their role on a team called the "First Push" that goes out right after a storm to clear roadways of downed trees, so emergency responders can have access.

A lot goes into preparing for a storm. It's an all-hands-on-deck mentality, and the City of Palm Coast is here to serve you. We hope your City made you proud. We are here and ready to respond…whatever duty calls.