He recalled being at the hotel where parents had gathered to learn whether their children had lived or died in the Stoneman Douglas shooting. “All of that haunts me,” he said. “I didn’t hear crying. I heard screaming.”
(TNS) — Jared Moskowitz makes his living off disaster, but not even he expected what 2020 had in store for him.
There’s been a global pandemic and civil unrest. Now, he’s facing a hurricane season that is projected to be one of the worst on record.
“The only thing left is to have a volcano erupt off the coast of Florida,” Moskowitz said.
The 39-year-old state emergency management director and Broward County native is quick with a joke, but he knows his job is deadly serious. He’s the guy in Tallahassee responsible for ensuring that masks get to front-line health care workers. His agency has doled out millions of dollars in emergency contracts to stockpile supplies for the coronavirus pandemic.
Moskowitz is usually at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ side at news conferences outlining the state’s coronavirus response.
In Moskowitz’s line of work, the wrong choice could cost people their lives. That’s what he says keeps him up at night.
“I understand the stakes of what we are doing,” he said. “A day delay of getting masks out — that one day delay — could be the difference in whether that doctor or nurse contracts COVID.”
Moskowitz is not the person you’d think DeSantis would select to lead the state’s Division of Emergency Management
DeSantis has been branded a Trump-loving puppet by his detractors on social media. Moskowitz is a liberal from the bluest part of Florida and once wore a T-shirt boasting of his F-minus rating from the National Rifle Association. Moskowitz called it a “badge of honor.”
Despite their differences, they’ve worked together on one of the worst public health crises in the nation’s history, speaking with each other on an almost daily basis, Moskowitz said.
“We have a rich history of Democrats and Republicans coming together in emergency management,” Moskowitz said. “When a hurricane hits, it doesn’t pick a Republican house or a Democratic house. This pandemic doesn’t pick whether you watch Fox or MSNBC in how it affects you.”
Moskowitz said he’s been given latitude by the governor to run his agency as he sees fit. The politicization of the pandemic that has divided Republicans and Democrats hasn’t come into play, he said.
That’s at odds with other dynamics in Tallahassee and Washington. DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — another Broward native — have clashed over the virus. Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, has criticized DeSantis’ response as “recklessly reopening Florida despite the data screaming for caution.”
Democratic state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a close friend of Moskowitz’s, shares Fried’s view that the DeSantis administration moved too quickly to reopen, but he said Moskowitz has done a good job in his role.
When Jones needed testing at a senior-living center in his district recently, Moskowitz made sure a mobile lab arrived in a matter of days, Jones said.
“Jared has been able to manage holding all politics at bay and keeping Floridians at the forefront and making sure we are safe,” Jones said. “That is Jared Moskowitz at his best.”
Moskowitz hasn’t been shy, either, in fighting to get badly needed supplies. As the state scrambled to buy N95 respirators, Moskowitz likened the system for procuring the masks to a “Ponzi scheme.” He pleaded on social media for the manufacturer 3M to bypass distributors hiking up prices and sell the masks directly to the state.
Since then, 3M has started suing vendors found to be trying to sell the sought-after masks at inflated prices.
The rush to ramp up testing and stockpile supplies hasn’t been problem free. The state hired a pediatrician with a checkered past to deliver thousands of coronavirus test results to patients. It also inked an $11.3 million testing and supply deal with a firm led by a man who pleaded guilty to two felonies related to insurance fraud last year, the investigative news website Florida Bulldog reported.
Jason Mahon, a spokesman for the Division of Emergency Management, told the Bulldog the agency didn’t have time “to vet every company’s executive leadership or board of directors” in the rush to respond to coronavirus.
Moskowitz said he never dreamed of becoming emergency management director, but everything changed on Feb. 14, 2018, when a gunman opened fire at his high school alma mater and killed 17 students and staff.
A native of Coral Springs and graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Moskowitz was first elected to the Florida House in 2012.
Moskowitz recalled being at the Coral Springs Marriott at Heron Bay where parents had gathered to learn whether their children had lived or died in the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
“All of that haunts me,” he said. “I didn’t hear crying. I heard screaming. It’s what has prepared me to do this. This stuff is not for the weak.”
Moskowitz said the massacre showed him the importance of government getting it right in heading off disaster. The FBI bungled tips that, if investigated, could have stopped the shooting.
As a state legislator, Moskowitz made an emotional floor speech that helped secure passage of landmark legislation that included Florida’s first gun control measures in two decades. The law increased the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21, required statewide background checks for long-gun purchases and made it easier for law enforcement to seize guns from people suspected of being a danger to themselves or others.
In December 2018, DeSantis selected Moskowitz to serve as emergency management director in his administration. Moskowitz took a sizable pay cut to take the $141,000-a-year emergency management job. Moskowitz was working as executive vice president and general counsel at AshBritt Environmental, a national disaster-recovery company. The Deerfield Beach-based business has contracts throughout the state to clean up hurricane debris.
Moskowitz has been living in a cottage near the emergency operations center in Tallahassee, 450 miles away from his home in Parkland.
His wife and 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons have stayed in Parkland. As the state locked down, Moskowitz spent two months away from his family, getting to see them only briefly when he visited testing sites in South Florida.
Moskowitz said it’s been hard to be separated. His wife, Leah, has been left to manage his two “hooligan” boys without him, he said.
“Sometimes I come home and wonder who has the easier job — me or her,” he said.
As of late, Moskowitz is preparing for the peak of hurricane season. Projections indicate this year’s season could be severe, and COVID-19 complicates everything.
Emergency managers are rethinking how they issue evacuation orders in a time when an exodus could spread the virus. If a mild storm approaches, people living in well-built structures could be asked to seek refuge at home, rather than leave. Hurricane shelters will check temperatures and isolate people suspected of having the disease. People could be spaced apart in school classrooms instead of being crowded together in gyms.
Moskowitz said he’s hoping for a break from the onslaught of bad news.
“I have not asked to become the master of disaster,” he said. “This is a first for everybody, but each day is about getting better. You make a mistake, you fix it.”
Skyler Swisher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher.
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