As a Democratic lawmaker from Broward County, Jared Moskowitz had been a vocal member of the House minority when he was selected in December by then-incoming Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to serve as director of the state Division of Emergency Management.
The selection of Moskowitz, 38, was noteworthy for coming across the political aisle, and it drew praise from members of both parties.
Moskowitz, an attorney who was first elected to the House in 2012, was working as executive vice president and general counsel at AshBritt Environmental when he was picked by DeSantis. The Deerfield Beach-based company provides national disaster-recovery and environmental services and has contracts throughout the state to clean up post-hurricane debris.
As a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Moskowitz was also heavily involved after the February 2018 mass shooting at his alma mater, including playing a role in passing a major school-security law.
Moskowitz is coming off his first big test in the Division of Emergency Management job after Hurricane Dorian threatened the state before staying off the coast.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Jared Moskowitz:
Q. We’ve seen a change in FEMA disbursements since you’ve moved into the statewide job. But what planning changes have you made or do you see being needed for Florida --- such as construction codes or evacuation planning --- as storms appear to be getting stronger and more destructive?
MOSKOWITZ: So, obviously with the new census coming out and the population growth in Florida, we’re going to be doing all sorts of new evacuation studies to take in that growth. That’s important. We have not done that in about a decade. That’s one of the steps were taking on evacuations. On planning stages, we’ve revamped a lot of stuff we’re doing around here on pre-planning, on how we respond to storms, mostly just pre-deploying these assets in the field beforehand. Rather than waiting until after the event, then I have to pull them in from Ohio, I’m going to have them here in Florida, pre-staged. That way I can serve the ALFs (assisted living facilities), I can serve the hospitals, I can serve the nursing homes. We can get gas stations online faster. We’re a small agency. We’re 250 people. So we’re built for speed. So, this is about delivering quality service at a faster pace.
Q. Anything so far from the preparation conducted and ongoing relief in the Bahamas that is making you reevaluate how Florida prepares?
MOSKOWITZ: While we have the strongest building code in the country, the building code was not made for Dorian. It was made for Andrew. And Dorian had 20 mph more sustained winds than Andrew. And it had the water effect of Hurricane Katrina. … (We) have a new secretary of resiliency and we have a new chief science officer. And do we have a strong building code? Do I think there are tweaks? Yeah, I think there are tweaks. I think we could go back and look. There are areas that flood now that didn’t use to flood. So, I think there are a number of things. Is that something we just have to do this legislature? No, I think it’s a long conversation. Because, obviously, this is not just something we’re going to be dealing with just this year and the year after. This is a long-term impact. Now, that’s easy to say, we had 10 years of no storms. It’s a cyclical thing, we’re obviously in that cycle now, but we have to be prepared.
Q. You also came into this job with a capital D beside your name and having been a somewhat vocal member of that side of the Legislature. How have you seen the reaction to your political party affiliation translate under a Republican administration?
MOSKOWITZ: This is non-partisan role. (Former Director) Craig Fugate was a Democrat. He worked for two Republican governors. Joe Myers was the director before that. He was a Republican, and he worked for a Democrat in (Gov.) Lawton Chiles. So, Florida has a rich history of people from different parties serving in this capacity. Hurricanes or other natural disasters or other man-made disasters, they don’t strike Democrats or Republicans differently. Nor do they differentiate between race, religion, creed or class. Everyone’s been tremendously supportive, my Republican colleagues, my Democratic colleagues, the governor’s office, because everyone knows this is a serious job. Not that (what) my fellow colleagues do at other state agencies isn’t extremely important. But this is the real deal. When we’re facing a disaster, it’s just about being prepared, being ready, working as a team, make sure we’re communicating and trying to keep our residents as safe as possible. Thankfully, emergency management might be maybe one of the last places that partisan politics has not seeped into, not affected, like we’ve seen in the rest of the country. I, collectively as a team, all the state agencies and all my colleagues, really pulled together on Dorian, because that would have been a tremendous challenge.
Q. What personal changes or emotions have you experienced in approaching a hurricane season, and the threat of a major storm, from the vantage point of Tallahassee, rather than South Florida?
MOSKOWITZ: I don’t know if there (is) any difference to being in South Florida to being in Tallahassee. How I approach it. Obviously, coming into this role I had just come off Parkland, and what happened there, obviously that was not a hurricane, that was a man-made disaster, but seeing, obviously, the effect on the community, the short-term recovery, the long-term recovery, the mental health aspects, which are, I think, ... very similar to potentially the mental health impacts of what’s going on in the Panhandle. How it impacts children. You have over 100 kids that have been Baker Acted in the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael. People are couch-surfing, living in temporary housing. It’s why the division has announced with the first lady (Casey DeSantis) that we’re going to have a mental health coordinator here at the division. We’re going to be the first division of emergency management at any state to have a mental health coordinator, which will help coordinate mental health resources from our state agencies to the federal government. I actually think that’s a new aspect in emergency management that we’ve not been doing, because we don’t look at that as a response issue. But it really is a long-term recovery issue. Obviously, my experiences over the last year have impacted kind of how I view this job.
Q. How taxing is it on staff and the department’s finances to in the past month have faced the prospects of a Cat 5-plus storm hitting the state and now see the Atlantic and Gulf juggling six systems?
MOSKOWITZ: The folks here are battle-tested. They’ve had Hermine, they’ve had Matthew, they’ve had Irma, they’ve had Michael, and we just had the threat of the strongest Category 5 to threaten South Florida in Hurricane Dorian, 60 miles off our coast, staring us in the face for 40 hours. My folks are tired, but they’re ready. This governor gave this division more general revenue than we have gotten in over a decade. And one of the things we got was additional dollars to invest in our employees for salary parity. That wasn’t something that I got in the Legislature. that was in the governor’s budget. So, the governor gets credit for recognizing this is Florida, we should invest in emergency management, which is made of people. And we should invest in them so we can recruit the best and brightest.