Emergency management’s hurricane season mantra: Be prepared

Sarasota County’s Ed McCrane says to be informed, have a plan and have a disaster kit.
By Elizabeth Djinis
Staff Writer
Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:37 PM Updated May 21, 2017 at 11:37 PM

When The Weather Channel’s senior hurricane specialist ranked regions in Florida based their vulnerability to hurricanes, he put the Tampa Bay area at the top of his list.

“Because of the density of the population and the inexperience of the population with hurricanes and just the raw threat of all the people living on islands with a long distance to go to evacuate,” said Bryan Norcross, who is well known for his coverage of 1992′s history making Hurricane Andrew.

Local emergency management officials hear it all the time: It has been years since Sarasota and Manatee counties have been directly hit by a hurricane. The last time Sarasota County experienced the eye of a hurricane was in 1944, when a cyclone hit with winds above 100 mph. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have moved to the area, many of whom have never witnessed a major hurricane.

“If we ever were to be hit, it would definitely be rough,” said Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane. “I don’t think anybody really realizes how serious it can be, so they need to never take these for granted. Every season is different, every storm is different.”

Local and state officials are gearing up for another six-month hurricane season, which starts June 1. Many of them gathered in West Palm Beach last week for more training at an annual state conference.

McCrane’s department holds preparedness seminars for various community groups upon request, and also produces a disaster planning guide each year, he added. But his three tips remain the same. He tells people to be informed, put together a disaster kit and have a plan. Across the board, emergency management officials emphasize that evacuation is significantly more difficult if residents only plan 72 hours in advance.

Sarasota County has 20 shelters, three of them special needs and all of them local schools. But local emergency management officials say staying with a friend or in a hotel is preferred to a shelter, where visitors may have to sleep on a classroom carpet, sleeping bags or cots brought from their homes.

“Shelters are a last resort,” McCrane said. “They’re not the Love Boat, they’re a life boat.”

Manatee County’s 25 shelters can house more than 32,000 people, according to Sharon Tarmon, one of the county’s emergency management officers. During Hurricane Matthew last year, the county opened up the shelters as a host community. While they housed more external visitors than locals, Tarmon did not know the exact number of people in Manatee County’s shelters during Matthew, which stayed just of Florida’s east coast.

One of the biggest problems Tarmon sees during the threat of any tropical storm is a disbelief among residents that the storm could be bad enough to warrant evacuation.

“Listen to authorities,” she said. “If we tell you to move, move. Don’t risk your life, don’t risk your family.”

Both Sarasota and Manatee counties updated their hurricane storm surge evacuation level maps this year. Tarmon and McCrane urged Manatee and Sarasota County residents to know their evacuation zone. Residents can type in their address and find their zones online for Sarasota County and Manatee County.

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