With hurricane season approaching, prepare now

Sarasota County Emergency Management encouraging everyone to plan ahead before a storm system nears the coastline

By Ed McCrane
Guest Columnist

Much has changed over the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic; but as we enter another hurricane season, one thing has not — now is the time to prepare for a storm.

This and every year, the Sarasota County Emergency Management staff encourages everyone to plan and be storm-ready well before a system is approaching. We do not know what the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season will be like, but being prepared is key.

If you’re not sure what you need to do to get ready for hurricane season, visit the hurricane preparedness page on Sarasota County’s website, scgov.net. There, you can find information on preparations for your family, home, neighborhood and business; public service announcement videos; and a digital version of the Disaster Planning Guide.

Remember to utilize any precautions or changes you made to your preparedness plans last year due to COVID-19. Have a supply of masks, sanitizer and an evacuation plan that makes evacuation centers a last resort.

Emergency Management coordinates with the Sarasota County School District for the opening of hurricane evacuation centers. These evacuation centers will be located within schools and will be announced through the media, county website and county social media platforms, as well as via text alerts. Sign up for emergency alerts at AlertSarasotaCounty.com.

Based on guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Sarasota County continues to use COVID-19 procedures that staff implemented last year. Among those are social distancing guidelines, increased disinfecting and cleaning procedures, use of additional personal protective equipment for evacuation center staff, and procedures for a health screening as evacuees arrive.

Vaccination for COVID-19 is a personal decision. However, being fully vaccinated provides an additional layer of protection for evacuees who seek shelter in hurricane evacuation centers.

Take steps to protect those you love and your home. Know what evacuation level your home is in and where you will go should you need to leave in the event of a storm. Sarasota County evacuation centers should be a final resort; plan to stay with family or friends who live outside the evacuation level.

Homeowners should evaluate their own residences’ safety, even if the homes are outside evacuation levels/areas. Residents may be able to shelter at home if the structure was built after 2002, it is outside the level being evacuated and it has appropriate window and door coverings.

Should you need to leave your home and cannot stay with family or friends, a hurricane evacuation center can be a safe place, but again, it should be considered a final resort.

Being prepared also means having a well-stocked emergency supply kit before the start of hurricane season. Ensure you are ready for a potential extended loss of power, and include any supplies you need for at least seven days. Once you have all of the basic supplies, such as water and non-perishable food, you should also consider medications and any unique needs your family might have. Do you need supplies for infants, pets or seniors?

It is still important to continue to include disinfectant, sanitizer and masks in emergency supply kits, especially for those whose plans for evacuation could include an evacuation center.

Evacuees are expected to bring all their disaster supplies, including bedding and comfort items. Pets are allowed at all evacuation centers, but they must be current on all vaccinations. Owners are responsible for bringing the appropriate crates, leashes and supplies.

Gather important paperwork and emergency contacts and keep them in a safe place or have electronic copies.

For those who are medically dependent or are not comfortable driving to an evacuation center, information on the Transportation Dependent Plan and applying to the Medical Needs Program is available on scgov.net or by calling the Contact Center at 941-861-5000.

As storms approach, Sarasota County Emergency Management will keep residents informed through emergency alerts, social media, our website and by partnering with local media.

Once the skies have cleared and the storm has passed, residents can count on us for help. But, residents need to be prepared and self-sufficient until we can respond. Being prepared is the best way to ensure your family is ready for any disaster.

Ed McCrane is Sarasota County’s Emergency Management chief.