Getting ready for the big one: "coach" Wayne Salladé remembers
Wayne Salladé If you ask Wayne Salladé, director of the Charlotte County Office of Emergency Management, he'll tell you that his governmental role is akin to being a football coach. True to form, the avid sports enthusiast sees sports analogies wherever he goes.
In a recent interview, the emergency operations center director said, "The coach never plays or wins the game. But the coach is responsible for coordinating members of very special teams."
Mr. Salladé is responsible for directing a vast team of community agencies in the event of emergency, such as Hurricane Charley's arrival on Aug. 13, 2004.
Without advance planning, he said, "It's complete chaos. An example of that would be (2005's Hurricane) Katrina," he said. "That's why 6,000 Floridians had to march in (to Louisiana) to help them clean up."
Across the United States, there are many directors of emergency management, responsible for disaster planning and preparation. Andrew had one. Katrina had one. And Charley — along with its 2004 string of sinister siblings — had Wayne Salladé. Clearly, some are better than others.
"It took 17 years of planning to handle a two-hour event," Mr. Salladé said of his Charley experience.
"Not many people who do what I do for a living come from the affected area," said the Florida native. "I do. With Charley, I lost my elementary, junior high and high schools all in one day."
He maintains that there might be a bright spot about Charley's collision with Charlotte. "If you're going to be hit hard during hurricane season, be hit first.
"We were hit with Charley. By the time Frances and Ivan and Jeanne hit, FEMA and all the government agencies were reeling."
So much abuse, so little time.
And, he said, "FEMA doesn't look back."
In Mr. Salladé's perspective, the succession of storms that hit Florida in 2004 will never again have such grave consequences.
"What's important is mitigation," he said, referring to structurally shoring-up the buildings in the community.
On Aug. 13, 2004, Charlotte County lost six of its 18 schools. And the other 12 have been hardened to withstand another such blow.
"Had our schools been hardened, every one of them would have survived. That's why we formulated a local mitigation strategy for eligible projects — to limit future losses.
"We meet, prioritize and rank what needs to be done and then submit it. We work with the schools, nonprofits, volunteer organizations, governmental entities, the Red Cross, homeless coalitions…" The list goes on an on.
"Every dollar in mitigation equals five dollars in clean-up, repair and replace- ment," he said. And thanks to the proactive work of Mr. Salladé and his team, Charlotte County stands ready if another assault should threaten.
Though there's much pride in the proactive emergency planning taken by his agency, Mr. Salladé still has regrets.
Four Charlotte County lives were lost in Charley. Though the department's exacting plan saved countless lives, the loss of four local lives haunts him. Had all listened, the plan should have saved them all.
If only every person had listened.
His personal experience of Charley cannot be minimized. "Max Mayfield saved my life," he's fond of saying.
"He talked me into leaving the EOC building, where I was meant to be," he said. As the structure collapsed around him, Mr. Salladé sought refuge at the Charlotte County Airport to continue his emergency work in the height of the storm.
"It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life," he said. "Winds were at hurricane force. I drove my Ford Expedition from the EOC to the airport. When I turned perpendicular to the wind to enter the airport, I was afraid it would blow me off the road."
But Wayne Salladé made it, thanks to years of planning and the guts necessary for him to face a brutal adversary — all in defense of the community that raised him, the one he'll be loyal to forever. ¦
>> Mr. Salladé will present "The Mean Season 2004: Memories of Charley" in conjunction with Charlotte County Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Aug. 28 at the Charlotte County Historic Center, 22959 Bayshore Road in Port Charlotte. For more information, call 629-7278.