EMERGENT COORDINATIVE GROUPS AND WOMEN'S RESPONSE ROLES IN THE CENTRAL FLORIDA TORNADO DISASTER, FEBRUARY 23, 1998
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CMS-9632458. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Florida is far from "Tornado Alley" where the nation's most severe tornadoes usually occur. Tornadoes in Florida most often occur as by-products of hurricanes. Thus, Florida does not have tornado sirens such as those found in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas which sound to warn sleeping citizens of approaching tornadoes. Despite tornado watches and warnings all day, many Central Floridians went to sleep on Sunday night with apparently little concern for such extreme weather (see Appendix B).
Tornadoes touched down in Brevard, Dixie, Manatee, Nassau, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia Counties. Forty-two people were killed and more than 250 were injured throughout the Central Florida area (St. Petersburg Times Feb. 24, 1998). This was the aftermath of the state's worst documented tornado outbreak.
Osceola County experienced the worst impact of these series of tornadoes. Twenty-five people were killed and 148 were injured in this county. Osceola County Office of Emergency Management estimated that the county sustained more than $37 million in damage to 150 homes, 200 mobile homes, 15 RVs, a strip mall and about 30 businesses. Some damage was inflicted upon an additional 225 homes, 60 apartments and 25 mobile homes (The Osceola Sentinel, March 6, 1998).
Located adjacently to the south of Orange County in which resides the city of Orlando, Osceola County has a population of approximately 130,000 (Pierce 1995). Geographically the county contains two large lakes, West Lake Tohopekaliga and East Lake Tohopekaliga, that surround the county's two largest cities, Kissimmee and St. Cloud. The two large lakes and many smaller lakes to the south comprise the Upper Kissimmee Waterway Basin. Because of the many lakes, conservation areas and farmland in the southern part of the county, the population is small outside of the cities of Kissimmee and St. Cloud. Osceola County is also the Florida county that contains most of Walt Disney World theme park located directly west of the city of Kissimmee.
The path of the storm (see Appendix C) took it from southwest to northeast crossing the mid-section of the county. It first passed over a restricted elders-only subdivision near the Poinciana Office and Industrial Park causing minor damage to some homes. It then proceeded to damage a few homes in the Campbell area southwest of Kissimmee proper. The tornado continued northeast heavily damaging The Shops at Kissimmee strip shopping mall with one entire wing completely collapsing. At that point the tornado passed over the northern tip of West Lake Tohopekaliga causing the heaviest damage to a neighborhood of lakeside homes as it reached the opposite shore.
After crossing Highway 441, then a field and leaving the Osceola County Stadium and Sports Complex unscathed, the tornado touched down around 2:00 a.m. at the Ponderosa Pines mobile home park near Boggy Creek Road causing the highest number of fatalities. Amidst virtually complete devastation, rescue workers recovered 10 bodies in the park. Nearly all of the community's 200 mobile homes and recreational vehicles were destroyed. The tornado then rolled northeast crossing the Florida turnpike and landed in the Lakeside Estates subdivision of single-family homes in the Buena Ventura Lakes area damaging about 400 homes and Cypress Creek Elementary School. Rescuers and residents awoke to find flattened cars, wrecked homes, and aluminum siding embedded in trees (see Appendix D).
We visited Osceola County, Florida, on four different occasions for two days each in order to study this community's coordinated response to the tornado disaster. The research for this project was qualitative in design including document analysis, ethnographic interviewing and participant observation. Data was primarily collected through semi-structured, open-ended interviews. We interviewed emergency management organization personnel, government and non-profit disaster relief organization personnel and citizen/victims. In total, we conducted ten interviews.
Snowball sampling techniques were employed. During each interview, we asked the respondent if he/she thought there was someone else in the community that would be important for us to talk with regarding coordination of the community's tornado response. In order to avoid biasing our informants, we did not reveal that we were primarily interested in women's roles in coordination of Osceola County's disaster response. Rather, we only asked our respondents who they thought were the key individuals in coordinating the community's response. In principle, our respondents suggested more women participants in human services and more men participants in response activities, confirming the traditional division of labor pattern within disaster that has been documented elsewhere (Wilson 1998, Enarson 1997, Enarson and Morrow 1998a, Phillips 1990).
To supplement ethnographic data (Erlandson, et al. 1993; Lincoln and Guba 1985), we gathered documents such as organizational reports, media accounts, weather reports and other potentially useful materials (Webb, et al. 1981; Plummer 1983).
Thus, an individual's place within the social structure determines the likelihood of their becoming a disaster victim. Additionally, among disaster victims those individuals belonging to one or more of these less-powerful groups will have more difficulty in the recovery process. Researchers have also found that traditionally less powerful groups are less likely to be part of existing disaster planning, response, and recovery efforts (Enarson and Morrow 1998a, Peacock et al. 1997, Neal and Phillips 1995, Phillips 1990, Bolin and Bolton 1986).
However, there is significant evidence that groups of affected people (women included) who do not have their needs met through pre-existing social (organizational) means will organize among themselves in some fashion to satisfy these requirements. Emergent or ad hoc organizations then arise (see Dynes' typology of organizational behavior in disaster ) which form outside the structure of the official disaster relief network and are aimed to link with the "insiders" in order to acquire a fair share of the means for recovery. While called emergent organizations, these groups often draw upon existing networks for labor and resources.
Women do often become actively involved in their communities and neighborhoods during disaster situations. Neal and Phillips (1990) illustrate that women were key participants or leaders in emergent citizen groups in disaster-affected communities. The emergent citizen groups fit into this traditional and local pattern of women's activism in which women view their cause as an extension of their traditional gender role. In addition, Enarson and Morrow (1998b) found that women's formal and informal networks were central to both household and community recovery after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Women's experience as community workers, informal neighborhood leaders, and social activists propelled women to take the initiative in organizing a disaster response coalition (Enarson and Morrow 1998b). Other women are highly involved as community workers and organizers in disaster-prone areas (Eade and Williams 1995), including neighborhood-based household preparedness programs (e.g., Faupel and Styles 1993).
On the other hand, Gillespie (1992) discusses how network structures in already existing organizations shift their functions and modify their goals during disaster in adaptation to the new environment. This arrangement is better-suited and more cost-effective than the formation of entirely new organizations. Bates and Harvey (1978) and Peacock (1991) have labeled these groups that form between existing organizations and play coordinative roles to pool resources from many different sources interstitial groups. These groups serve to link the various social units that participate in a goal-oriented exchange relationship. An exchange interstitial group may or may not continue to exist contingent upon attainment of goals, expectations and needs of the participants involved (Peacock 1991) as well as the scope of work, jurisdiction and/or financial limitations of the parent organizations. Following this concept, then, pre-existing women's groups or networks may be a source for leadership in such emergent coordinative groups.
Today, women are becoming incorporated into the official disaster relief network. Due in part to professionalization, women are more often found in official emergency management positions at the federal, state and local level (Wilson 1998, Enarson 1997, Enarson and Morrow 1998a, Drabek 1986). Women also continue to enter other emergency response organizations such as the police and fire departments in greater numbers (Chetkovich 1997, Martin 1980). These conditions together with the fact that women have traditionally participated in human service agencies such as the American Red Cross and others, make their presence more prevalent in the emergency operations center (EOC) as representatives of important functional areas. Women's greater participation from across fields in the interstitial group of the EOC, may provide less reason for outside interstitial groups to form. Thus, women's needs may primarily be met through existing organizations.
In order to explore further the complex issues of women and emergent organization in disaster, our intent was to examine a disaster-affected community's emergent, ad hoc groups which formed to broker or coordinate between service, non-governmental and governmental organizations and, in so doing, meet certain recovery needs of the population that otherwise would not be met. Specifically, we looked for women's roles in these "emergent coordinative organizations." Hence, the research question was: What are the conditions under which women play vital roles in coordinating interorganizational disaster response activities in the community? Several sub-questions included: When did these groups emerge?; How many women were involved?; What were the structural characteristics of the organization as well as individual characteristics of the women in these coordinative roles?
Although this county has rarely experienced a disaster of the same proportion as the tornadoes, there were some very innovative techniques utilized during the response. For example, the Osceola County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) established a storeroom for citizens whose homes were destroyed to store their possessions until they could find replacement housing. In addition, the OEM established two warehouses: one for incoming donations and one for outgoing donations. Osceola OEM was aware that the county would receive large amounts of unusable donations that could then be forwarded to other agencies that would be glad to have them. The OEM Operations Manager who was in charge of the activated EOC said that "at one point we had nearly twenty semi's coming in and twenty semi's going out each day" with donations received and then subsequently forwarded.
Another unique or unusual response by Osceola County OEM was the coordination of volunteers. The OEM arranged to have photo identification badges made for each volunteer. This was accomplished through the development of a database which kept track of volunteers' names, what skills and/or equipment they were able to provide, and their assignments. The database also tracked the volunteer needs within the community. The OEM also covered volunteers with accident insurance and workman's compensation insurance during their volunteer work. According to the Operations Manager of Osceola County OEM, there were close to 3000 volunteers who did 19,000 hours of work in the county in response to the tornado disaster.
In all, respondents had very few complaints concerning the response to the tornadoes. Rather, the respondents to whom we spoke praised the coordinated efforts among the community's organizations. Indeed, according to our respondents there was a high amount of coordination among existing agencies or organizations. For example, "town meetings" by city-county coordination were instituted immediately after the event (the next day) in order to facilitate communication among all the players. Respondents reported that there were only minor communication problems that were resolved quickly. This may be due to the fact that the EOC was expressly utilized for coordination purposes among the players.
Because most of the Osceola County departments and offices were involved in the response in some way coordination was further facilitated. These departments include the human resources department, the parks and recreation department, the road and bridge department, the collections office, the solid waste department, the billing office, and others. These offices provided labor, equipment, and communication to the response effort.
Another reason for the quick and thorough response, is the fact that several of the key response agencies had members of their regional or state offices come into the county in order to facilitate the response. Florida state Department of Emergency Management had a representative come in "almost immediately" after the tornadoes to work with Osceola County OEM in instituting the state-designed response plan. This same procedure occurred at the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army which both had members of their regional disaster response teams arrive within twelve to thirty-six hours of the tornado disaster. These teams' expertise in disaster response and their assistance in Osceola County was evident in the coordinated and swift response of these organizations for sheltering and donations (American Red Cross) and feeding (Salvation Army).
There was substantial evidence that the responders were concerned with making recovery from the disaster as easy as possible for individual victims in the community. One way in which this was accomplished was that the Disaster Relief Center (DRC) contained representatives from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Small Business Administration (SBA), some state agencies such as the Insurance Department, and United Methodist Disaster Relief (UMCorp) all in the same building. This is significant because in many communities this does not always take place due to lack of space and willingness to work so closely together. In addition, the local bus system, LYNX, established separate routes to transport tornado victims to the DRC.
Furthermore, most of the local social service agencies decided to set up a disaster relief fund for the donations they received. Every agency was then able to draw from this fund to practice their individual disaster relief work, i.e., mental health, food bank, etc. This procedure was taken in order to balance out the amount of disaster relief donations received by individual agencies since some received large amounts of funds and some received little or no donations. This is a significant component of the coordinative effort as non-profit agencies often have difficulty obtaining adequate operating funds.
In total, six women were prominent in the community tornado response in Osceola County, Florida. Although the total number of important female responders is small, only half of those women (three) occupied traditional female working roles in their official positions. Three were in social services but the remaining three occupied "less-traditional" female working roles: a police officer, a horticulture agent, and an assistant city manager (public official). Even though these women regularly occupied "less-traditional" working roles, two of them fulfilled more traditional female roles during the disaster response. One woman was responsible for coordinating volunteer workers and the second handled phone communication at the EOC. The third woman took on a much more substantial "non-traditional" working role during the disaster response as the mediator between city workers and the county OEM response process. Thus, we can argue that women were vital in the response process within the pre-existing organizational structure.
Among the reasons that no emergent coordinative groups formed in Osceola County is that already existing organizations adapted to meet the basic needs of the affected community. In short, the exchange relationship was conducted both within existing organizations and between these organizations so that the outside or ad hoc groups were not needed. This may have been accomplished in part because women, racial minorities, and cultural ethnic/religious ethnic minorities, are often integral parts of the disaster relief network. More diverse emergency response organizations represented in the EOC are more likely to be sensitive to the needs and concerns of all members of the affected community.
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APPENDIX A: Osceola County, Florida Tornadoes 1950-1995* and the Fujita Tornado Scale**
All times are Central Standard Time; add one hour for Eastern Standard Time Date Event Time Dead Injured F County # Scale Number(s) JUN 08, 1960 017 1730 0 1 F1 097 APR 12, 1961 008 1515 0 1 F1 097 APR 04, 1966 001 0900 0 0 F3 097 APR 04, 1966 002 0715 0 0 F2 097 JUN 28, 1971 031 1430 0 0 F0 097 AUG 24, 1971 045 1630 0 0 F1 097 JAN 28, 1973 006 1115 0 7 F2 097 APR 15, 1975 036 0515 0 0 F0 097 APR 15, 1975 037 0850 0 0 F0 097 MAY 14, 1975 042 1850 0 0 F1 097 MAY 13, 1976 022 1800 0 0 F0 097 JAN 10, 1977 002 0550 0 0 F1 097 FEB 24, 1977 004 0804 0 0 F0 097 MAY 04, 1978 039 1350 0 1 F0 097 MAR 19, 1981 008 0100 0 11 F2 097 MAR 24, 1983 030 0510 0 0 F2 097 MAR 24, 1983 031 0550 0 0 F1 097 SEP 01, 1987 040 1440 0 3 F1 097 AUG 02, 1995 041 0304 0 0 F1 097
F-0: 40-72 mph, chimney damage, tree branches broken. F-1: 73-112 mph, mobile homes pushed off foundation or overturned. F-2: 113-157 mph, considerable damage, mobile homes demolished, trees uprooted. F-3: 158-205 mph, roofs and walls torn down, trains overturned, cars thrown. F-4: 207-260 mph, well-constructed walls leveled F-5: 261-318 mph, homes lifted off foundation and carried considerable distances, autos thrown as far as 100 meters.
*Tornado Project Web Link
**FEMA Tornado Page Web Link
APPENDIX B: Official National Weather Service Watches and Warnings for Central Florida
(Osceola County), February 22-23, 1998*
BULLETIN - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED TORNADO WATCH NUMBER 58 STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK 813 PM EST SUN FEB 22 1998 THE STORM PREDICTION CENTER HAS ISSUED A TORNADO WATCH FOR PORTIONS OF NORTHERN AND CENTRAL FLORIDA AND ADJACENT COASTAL WATERS EFFECTIVE THIS SUNDAY NIGHT AND MONDAY MORNING FROM 900 PM UNTIL 300 AM EST. TORNADOES...HAIL TO 2 INCHES IN DIAMETER...THUNDERSTORM WIND GUSTS TO 80 MPH...AND DANGEROUS LIGHTNING ARE POSSIBLE IN THESE AREAS. THE TORNADO WATCH AREA IS ALONG AND 80 STATUTE MILES EITHER SIDE OF A LINE FROM 60 MILES WEST NORTHWEST OF DAYTONA BEACH FLORIDA TO 35 MILES SOUTH OF AVON PARK FLORIDA. REMEMBER...A TORNADO WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE FOR TORNADOES AND SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IN AND CLOSE TO THE WATCH AREA. PERSONS IN THESE AREAS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR THREATENING WEATHER CONDITIONS AND LISTEN FOR LATER STATEMENTS AND POSSIBLE WARNINGS. OTHER WATCH INFORMATION...THIS TORNADO WATCH REPLACES TORNADO WATCH NUMBER 57. WATCH NUMBER 57 WILL NOT BE IN EFFECT AFTER 900 PM EST. DISCUSSION...THUNDERSTORMS CONTINUE TO MOVE EASTWARD FROM THE EASTERN GULF OF MEXICO TOWARD THE WEST CENTRAL FLORIDA COAST. 00Z TBW SOUNDING INDICATES AMPLE LOW LEVEL MOISTURE AND DRY AIR ALOFT CREATING MODERATELY UNSTABLE CONDITIONS /MOST UNSTABLE CAPE TO 2500 J/KG/. IN ADDITION...VERTICAL WIND PROFILES SHOW STRONG WINDS AOA 45-50 KT ABOVE THE SURFACE LAYER THAT VEER AND INCREASE WITH HEIGHT RESULTING IN FAVORABLE SHEAR/HELICITY FOR POSSIBLE SUPERCELL DEVELOPMENT. AVIATION...TORNADOES AND A FEW SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS WITH HAIL SURFACE AND ALOFT TO 2 INCHES. EXTREME TURBULENCE AND SURFACE WIND GUSTS TO 70 KNOTS. A FEW CUMULONIMBI WITH MAXIMUM TOPS TO 450. MEAN STORM MOTION VECTOR 21045. ...WEISS ********************************************************************************* BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED TORNADO WARNING NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL 1222 AM EST MON FEB 23 1998 THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MELBOURNE FL HAS ISSUED A TORNADO WARNING EFFECTIVE UNTIL 120 AM EST FOR PEOPLE IN THE FOLLOWING LOCATION... IN EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA ...NORTHERN OSCEOLA COUNTY AT 1218 AM EST...WEATHER RADAR INDICATED A POSSIBLE TORNADO ABOUT 8 MILES NORTHEAST OF LAKELAND MOVING RAPIDLY NORTHEAST AT 45 MPH. THIS SEVERE THUNDERSTORM AND POSSIBLE TORNADO WILL MOVE INTO NORTHWEST OSCEOLA COUNTY NEAR INTERCESSION CITY...KISSIMMEE...AND THE ATTRACTIONS AREA. THE STORM WILL LIKELY CONTINUE INTO SOUTHWEST ORANGE COUNTY. A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR WESTERN ORANGE COUNTY UNTIL 1240 AM. THIS WARNING MAY BE EXTENDED. CARS AND MOBILE HOMES CAN BE TOSSED ABOUT BY TORNADO WINDS. DO NOT TRY TO OUTRUN A TORNADO IN YOUR VEHICLE. ABANDON VEHICLES AND MOBILE HOMES WHEN THREATENED BY A TORNADO AND GO TO A STRONG BUILDING. IF NO STRUCTURE IS NEARBY...SEEK SHELTER IN A DITCH OR LOW SPOT. SHARP ********************************************************************************* WFUS01 KMLB 230620 TORMLB FLC095-097-230720- BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED TORNADO WARNING NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL 119 AM EST MON FEB 23 1998 THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MELBOURNE FL HAS ISSUED A TORNADO WARNING EFFECTIVE UNTIL 220 AM EST FOR PEOPLE IN THE FOLLOWING LOCATION... IN EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA ...ORANGE COUNTY ...OSCEOLA COUNTY AT 115 AM...RADAR SHOWED SEVERE A TORNADIC LINE OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS FROM BITHLO TO NARCOOSEE AND WEST LAKE TOHO. THESE STORMS WILL ACROSS EASTERN ORANGE AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES F AND LIKELY PRODUCE TORNADO TOUCHDOWNS FROM CHRISTMAS TO NARCOOSEE...AND KISSIMMEE/ST CLOUD. TORNADOES HAVE ALREADY CLAIMED A LIFE IN VOLUSIA COUNTY! TAKE SHELTER NOW!!! IF YOU ARE IN THE PATH OF A TORNADO...ABANDON CARS AND MOBILE HOMES FOR A REINFORCED BUILDING OR GET INTO A DITCH OR CULVERT. THE SAFEST PLACE IS AN INTERIOR ROOM SUCH AS A CLOSET ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF A STRONG BUILDING. AVOID WINDOWS.
*National Weather Service Melbourne Office Web Link
APPENDIX C: Map of Kissimmee, Osceola County,
Area Affected by the Central Florida Tornado Disaster, February 23, 1998, 12:40AM
APPENDIX D: Images of Osceola County Tornado
Damage, February 23, 1998 Photos by Arthur Oyola-Yemaiel and Jennifer Wilson
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