The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico on the night of April 20, 2010. A week later, on April 29, as the first of many oil-soiled birds were being washed down, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist also made an announcement that day. He was leaving the Republican party to run as an independent for U.S. Senate.
In the weeks since waves of oil began seeping into the Gulf of Mexico, Crist has appeared on the nightly news on a near-daily basis to discuss the oil crisis. He regularly tours the Panhandle. He meets with affected business owners. And, he highlights his response to the oil disaster whenever he is in a large, bustling room.
"You know, when this thing first hit, I signed a declaration of emergency for the six counties that were directly affected, impacted in the Panhandle," he told a crowd at the Florida Association of Counties conference in Tampa on July 1, 2010. "Then, I extended that not long thereafter down into Sarasota County. And then we started to hear about the loop current -- I mean we've all become sort of mini-experts in the study of this spill -- after hearing about the looper and the possibility that this could get all the way down into Monroe County and even up, you know, to Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, we extended that emergency declaration through Palm Beach County."
Crist's message: I've been getting things done. But, we wondered, was Crist's response really that nimble?
It wasn't until the day after he announced he was running as an independent that Crist signed a 6-page executive order declaring a state of emergency for six Florida counties: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf. In that April 30 order, he also tapped the state Department of Environmental Protection to coordinate the response effort.
Crist added 13 more counties on May 3, extending the state of emergency south along the Gulf Coast through Sarasota County.
The proclamations were good enough for Florida, but Crist still needed to let the federal government know Florida was in crisis if he wanted federal help.
That step didn't come until more than two weeks after the rig explosion with a May 6 letter to President Barack Obama requesting a $50 million disaster grant from the federal Department of Labor. He later requested help from the federal Small Business Administration on May 12, which allowed business owners to qualify for federal grants.
A month after the explosion, Crist extended the state of emergency further south and back up the Atlantic coast through Palm Beach County. In all, the May 20 executive order brought the number of Florida counties in a declared state of emergency to a total of 26. Crist explained his decision by citing reports that oil from the spill had entered into a loop current that could potentially carry it out to other counties bordering the gulf and the Atlantic seaboard.
Crist broke out his special executive order pen one more time on June 18, extending the state of emergency through Aug. 28. "Depending on weather and ocean currents, this ecological disaster poses a potential threat to Florida's entire coastline," read the order.
We weren't sure how Crist would define "when this thing first hit."
For context, we looked at what the governors did in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, the other gulf states immediately threatened by the oil spill.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley also declared a state of emergency on April 30, but his covered the entire state. More recently, Riley reached out for some divine help when he declared Sunday, June 27, a "Day of Prayer," and urged his residents to ask God for a solution.
April 30 was also a productive day for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who declared a state of emergency in all areas affected by the oil leak, including, "but not limited to, Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, the littoral areas of these counties, any state, national or international waters through which state or federal personnel shall traverse or operate in responding to this oil leak."
Then there's Jindal, one of the few government leaders whose outspokenness on the oil leak might rival Crist's. Jindal was the first of the four gulf coast governors to declare a state of emergency. His came April 29 and covered the entire state of Louisiana. That same day, Jindal shared his declaration with the federal Small Business Administration, the first step in ensuring small businesses in areas ravaged by the oil spill would be eligible for low-interest loans of up to $2 million to cover basic operating expenses. He also asked that the Small Business Administration temporarily suspend loan repayments for coastal businesses impacted by the spill that had received earlier loans related to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav.
So, that means Crist was mostly in step with his peers when he declared a state of emergency in six Florida counties 10 days after the oil rig explosion. And he did go on to expand the emergency declaration to include 20 more counties within a month.
On the other hand, of the four states closest to the oil disaster, Florida is still the only state with a limited emergency area. And, unlike Jindal, Crist did not immediately seek financial help from the federal government.
Crist's initial emergency proclamation was timely and he did continue to expand it. But given that he didn't immediately reach out for federal dollars and that other gulf governors beat him to the punch by issuing broad state of emergency proclamations from the beginning -- we give him a Mostly True.