It’s that time of year
When the air gets sticky, it’s time for the hurricane dance. Bot-tled wa-ter, do-se-do and food for later, don’t you know. Sunscreen, bug juice and evac zones, to flee the flood surge flow.
Once again it was Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane calling the steps the morning of May 21, after a brief introduction by new County Administrator Randy Reid. The setting was the press room at the Administration Center on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota.
“Hurricanes are dangerous, they happen and we need to prepare for them and urge citizens to prepare for their own safety,” said Reid, an Eagle Scout. “’Be prepared’ is a good motto,” he added.
It’s been six years since a cyclone did the tap dance of destruction across Florida, and McCrane doesn’t want people to think the music has stopped. However, the tempo of the hurricane dance is predicted to slow down this year. Crystal ball guru Bill Grey at Colorado State University is anticipating a slower-than-usual storm season.
In fact, Grey and his young sidekick, Phil Klotzbach, are predicting a dramatic downturn in tropical storm activity this year. The abstract of their scientific paper released last month says, “We estimate that 2012 will have about 4 hurricanes (median is 6.5), 16 hurricane days (median is 21.3), 2 major (category-3-4-5) hurricanes (median is 2.0), and 3 major hurricane days (median is 3.9).”
Of course it only takes one to ruin your day.
When the music’s over ….
McCrane this year put a little more focus on post-storm activity. He urged residents to stay inside their homes or a shelter until officials decree it is safe to go outside. “Safe” is a relative term, because if you are anywhere near the center of the storm – even a weak one – there will be downed power lines galore. Tree limbs will continue to fall, and weakened structures can collapse without the need of hurricane-force winds.
McCrane will be sending “first-in teams” into the community to handle the worst of the dangers. These teams will include law enforcement officers, firefighters and utility workers to map out safe transit zones and provide immediate first aid. They will be followed by search and rescue teams looking for trapped survivors.
Debris clearance will begin after that, first on the roads. The county will try to inform residents about where to put debris they remove from their property. Only then will county officials begin to let people back into evacuated areas.
McCrane urged people going to storm shelters to take along some form of identification they can use to show authorities they either live or work in an evacuation zone. This is an anti-looting measure, so expect the authorities to be strict about who gets back in.
At that point, the county will set up distribution points for water, food, ice and other items deemed essential. But if the storm was not ruinously destructive, and stores begin to reopen quickly, this step might be skipped. Then the restoration of utility service – power, telephone, cable, Internet – will begin, along with damage assessment.
McCrane did not speak of the county’s Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plan, which is under development to determine the rebuilding strategy after a substantial hurricane strike. If climate scientists such as Grey and Klotzbach are right, sea levels are incrementally rising, which will exacerbate cyclone storm surges. And that could mean barrier islands – at some point – could lose their federal flood insurance status. (That’s the insurance through which farmers in Kansas subsidize Floridians who build mansions on the beach.)
What’s for dinner?
McCrane urged residents to stockpile at least a three-day supply of food and water well ahead of any approaching storm. And he highly suggested putting a week’s worth of stocks aside. Gas up your vehicles, too, because that may be the only air conditioning you’ll have.
There’s more stuff you’ll be glad you put in your waterproof survival stash: toilet paper, for example; mosquito repellent (because your un-air-conditioned home won’t be); sunscreen, because you’ll be outside a lot; and aloe for the inevitable sunburn. Hurricane season is a summertime thing.
If cold Spam doesn’t excite you, maybe you should stock up on propane for your grill; instant coffee, instant oatmeal and other, fast-easy-and-filling food will be in demand.
Make sure you have batteries for flashlights and radios. Charge up your cell phone, too, and other media devices that can connect to cellular service.
For people living away from the coast and out of the floodplain, post-storm conditions should be more benign. But people in the county’s A and B evacuation zones should prepare for hard times after a hurricane.
Which zone are you in? There are a number of ways to find out. Last year’s Truth-in-Millage notices to homeowners provided “The Zone” for each one, as did the final tax notice. If you’re not a taxpayer and live in unincorporated Sarasota County, look for a yellow sticker immediately below a red stop sign. McCrane said the cities in the county should begin installing those stickers this year.
And you can go to the county website (scgov.net) and click “All Hazards” on the bottom of the homepage. That will provide a wealth of information beyond just your zone.
McCrane ominously hinted the federal government might not be able to offer the level of assistance we recall from past hurricanes because of budget difficulties. Although he didn’t mention it, Sarasota County has budget problems, too, which could slow some local recovery efforts. Now more than ever, it would be a good idea to be more self-reliant.