Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
7:01 am EDT
Sunday, October 25, 2020

Hurricane relief efforts continue in variety of ways in Lake and Sumter

Hurricane Michael wreaked havoc in the Panhandle, such as this area of Tallahassee. // Photos provided by city of Clermont

Communities in Lake and Sumter counties continue to band together to offer assistance to victims of Hurricane Michael.

The Mount Dora Police Department will host a Panhandle Hurricane Relief Drive this weekend: from 9am-5pm Friday, Oct. 19, at the police department, 1300 N. Donnelly St.; and from 9am-3pm Saturday, Oct. 20, at the public parking lot across from First United Methodist Church, 439 5th Ave. The drive is a show of support and solidarity for first responders in the Panhandle, a news release states.

The police department is collecting ONLY the following items:

Water – Pre-packaged from stores.

Toiletries – Only deodorants, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and wipes.

Baby items – Wipes, formula, baby food, boys and girls pull-ups and diapers (all sizes).

Pet food – Bagged from stores.

Clothing and nonperishable food items will not be accepted, but cash and checks will be accepted to help relief efforts. Checks can be made out to the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 147.

The Community Foundation of South Lake is partnering with American Family Feed & Supply to assist people in the Panhandle. Funds will be used to buy much needed relief supplies, and AFFS will deliver them personally to churches and institutions that are helping in the relief effort, according to the South Lake Chamber of Commerce newsletter.

Donations enable the foundation to support displaced families and help them rebuild. Go to to make a donation.

On the ground, The Villages Public Safety Department recently deployed seven firefighters, along with firefighters from Sumter County Fire and EMS, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, and Flagler Beach, as part of an Engine Strike Team sent to the Panhandle. The team’s assignment is to provide backup and post-storm resources as needed to areas affected by Hurricane Michael, a news release states.

Since arriving in the area Oct. 13, the firefighters have been running nonstop to various types of calls, including search and rescue, carbon monoxide alarms, structure fires, medical incidents, and assisting with clearing road debris. They have worked in Marianna and the Bay County/Panama City area.

The contingent from VPSD includes Lt. Adelisa Luciano, Lt. Christopher Gruber, and firefighters Devin Lawrence, Jacob May, Keith Norris, David Gomez, and Eric Williamson. They will be deployed for seven days before returning home Thursday, Oct. 25, and, if necessary, another team of firefighters will be sent to provide further assistance, the release states.

Clermont came to the rescue this week in a different, more unusual way. The city helped restore about 200 Florida law enforcement agencies’ access to critical software they use to file traffic crash and citation reports from the road, a news release states.

Hurricane Michael’s destruction on Oct. 10 cut off power to the software’s servers, which were housed at the Panama City Police Department. This data hosting site was delivered to the Clermont Police Department Monday, Oct. 15, and a team worked intently to get it up and running.

“It’s the least we could do to help,” City Manager Darren Gray says in the release. “This software is critical to thousands of police officers’ daily duties, and our state-of-the-art police department has the advanced capabilities needed to house their servers.”

Traffic and Criminal Software (TraCS) provides the necessary software free to agencies. TraCS is a grant-funded project run by Florida State University and paid for by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Mike Wilkinson and Amy Pontillo work with TraCS’ servers inside the Clermont Police Department.

TraCS is used to file about one-third of the state’s crash reports as well as millions of citations a year. In the handful of days when TraCS’ servers were down, police officers tediously handwrote and physically delivered reports, causing delays and increasing the likelihood of inaccuracies, says Amy Pontillo, systems architect for Florida State University with TraCS.

The city doubled its internet bandwidth, dedicated specific IP addresses, and tackled other logistics to connect TraCS through the city’s router to the internet, which was done quickly overnight with Florida LambdaRail’s help.

“There was never a question about if we can do something; it was how quickly we could do it,” says Don Dennis, the city’s IT director. “Everybody pulled together to make it happen in a very timely manner.”

The data hosting site will be returned eventually to its primary location at Panama City Police Department, and the Clermont Police Department will remain the designated backup location, the release states. The department’s location in the center of the state and the city’s high elevations make the department less likely to flood or be knocked out by a hurricane.

“We’re glad to be a part of the solution and that TraCS is back up and running to serve the various agencies around the state,” Clermont Police Chief Charles Broadway says in the release.

TraCS is paying to use the site, which will compensate for the electricity, internet, and staffing costs, helping to recoup some of the data center’s operating expenses.

“Clermont saved the state,” says Seth Bartee, system administrator for FSU with TraCS. “By Clermont opening their doors for us to house our servers, they’re going to make police officers’ jobs easier.”