Why the secrecy at the hurricane command post?

Reporters try to hear updates through the glass at the state Emergency Operations Center during hurricane Irma. Photo: Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat

Tallahassee Democrat by Bill Cotterell

September 13, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott has been more visible than ever in the past week, touring disaster sites and being interviewed on network news shows during the preparation and recovery from Hurricane Irma.

His control of information has also been more ironclad than usual.

Scott has been praised for his handling of the crisis but, considering he’s a likely candidate for the U.S. Senate next year, it’s significant that his office totally controls access to even the most mundane details. Coming straight from the corporate world, he’s always been more secretive than his predecessors, although they all manage the news to some extent.

It just matters more in a crisis.

The Tallahassee press is corralled in a little room with a big glass wall at the Emergency Operations Center, able to see into the command post but unable to hear what is said in twice-daily briefings with state and county officials. Reporters press against the inch-thick window, like puppies a pet shop, trying to cadge a random lead.

The Division of Emergency Management could easily admit them to hear it all in real time, or at least flip a switch and pipe in audio to the news conference room. Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist used to do that, and Scott did a time or two previously.

But Scott’s administration treats information like ranchers in the Old West treated water: If we’ve got it, it must be ours and we, alone, will decide when, whether and how to release some. There are aides who field questions for reporters, many of whom camped at the EOC fulltime during the storm, but their answers are well-scrubbed and optimistic.

With his rolled-up sleeves and Navy ball cap, Scott has visited shelters and held press conferences all over Florida. He speaks talking points, with information that is reliable, if incomplete. But the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times pointed out just yesterday, for instance, how Scott took 12 hours to announce that driving on the road shoulder would be allowed for evacuees on part of I-75. [READ MORE]

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