At the press conference on Friday, Oct. 3, the media asked Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley what she would correct for future disasters. She got testy.
“What I would say is this—Mother Nature is something that you really shouldn’t play with,” Gilley said. “And so I think that we will continue to make sure that whenever we make these announcements in the future that we are just as forceful as we were last time, but, perhaps, maybe we’ll make them more forceful.”
She continued, “We’ll say maybe instead of every 30 minutes, we say every 15 minutes—we need you to evacuate, we need you to evacuate, we need you to evacuate.”
Either Gilley was trying to rewrite history or merely using hyperbole. The county didn’t tell the residents that they needed to evacuate every 30 minutes. At best, it was every eight hours the last day and a half as Hurricane Sally approached our area. The notice of voluntary evacuation came less than 36 hours before Hurricane Sally made landfill and less than 20 hours before the Pensacola Bay and Theo Baars bridges were closed due to high winds.
The county sent out its first official Hurricane Sally update at 3:35 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 14. The release specifically stated that no evacuations were ordered for Escambia County residents—“no matter the location.”
Then–about 90 minutes later after most had headed home thinking all was safe–the county sent another release and posted on Facebook that voluntary hurricane evacuation had been issued for Escambia County evacuation zone A—Perdido Key, Innerarity Point, Pensacola Beach and other low-lying areas.
“Please take this notice seriously,” stated the announcement. “The storm could potentially shift more to the east.”
No other mention was made of voluntary evacuation on Facebook or myescambia.com until the second Hurricane Sally update at 11:55 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15. By then, the Pensacola Bay, Theo Baars and Lillian Highway bridges had been closed.
The county held its first Hurricane Sally press conference at 3 p.m. on Tuesday – about 14 hours before landfall. The voluntary evacuation was mentioned for only the third time in the past 24 hours. However, most of the bridges had been closed. Garcon Point Bridge would be shut down before 6 p.m.
In a presser the week after the hurricane had made landfall, Commissioner Robert Bender talked about the evacuation order. When I pointed out that it was only voluntary, he told me that the sheriff’s office wouldn’t have enforced a mandatory evacuation order. My rebuttal was the word “mandatory” is what gets the attention of the locals. No one expects law enforcement to arrest people who ignore an evacuation order.
Today, Gilley will hold a presser on Hurricane Delta – about four days before its projected landfall. It will be interesting to see how differently the county approaches this storm. She’s already 72 hours head of what she did for Hurricane Sally