State promises more access ahead of Tropical Storm Nate

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 Arek Sarkissian

October 6, 2017

For the first time in years, news reporters will be allowed to listen in to meetings held inside the Florida Emergency Operations Center.

The center is the home base for the state Division of Emergency Management and serves as the nerve center for hurricane preparations. On Friday, agency interim Director Wes Maul decided to reverse a decision that barred journalists from hearing meetings held inside the center.

“At the direction of interim Director Wes Maul, EOC briefings will be open to the press,” said McKinley Lewis, spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott.

Maul made his decision after Scott’s office received a letter sent by the Press Corps that asked for time to discuss the lack of access. The first meeting will be piped into a media room at the facility at 5 p.m. today. The consortium of public agencies summoned to the center before any storm will discuss Tropical Storm Nate and its threat to the Panhandle over the weekend.

The lack of audio became a source of conflict last month between media outlets including the USA Today Network and Scott’s office as the state braced for Hurricane Irma.

Citing an exemption in Florida’s Sunshine Law about military movements, the governor’s staff would not turn on the audio. However, electronic slides used during the meetings were made available, and Scott’s staff paid visits to the center’s media room.

The emergency complex about six miles from the state Capitol was built after Hurricane Andrew hammered Florida in August 1992. The facility includes a room for reporters with large glass windows along the wall shared by the cavernous Emergency Operations Center. There also are speakers in the ceiling adjacent to the glass reporters could turn on when meetings took place. [READ MORE]

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