The closest hurricane experience Sarasotans can have is one of those hurricane booths in the mall that blows 78 mph winds, but just because a real one hasn’t struck the city in years doesn’t mean you should be any less prepared this hurricane season.
“I’m an Eagle Scout and the slogan’s always been ‘Always Be Prepared,’” County Administrator Randall Reid said during the county's 2012 hurricane season preview press conference Monday morning.. “It is very difficult to maintain preparations even as something as regular as hurricanes in Florida when we have a few seasons where we’re blessed with not having them.”
One way of being prepared is to “Know Your Zone.” A new online tool that the county is promoting shows which areas will be evacuated first in case of an evacuation. Properties are in zones A through E. Zone A would be evacuated for tropical storms and Category 1 hurricanes while Zone E would evacuate all zones including Zone E, for a Category 5 hurricane.
On the tool, users will enter their house number then select the street name with the corresponding ZIP code on a drop-down menu.
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Other ways you can Know your Zone includes:
• Ad valorum and non-ad valorum tax assessment bill has a box telling you which zone you’re in
• On example page of property page trim notice evacuations and zones are explained
• Yellow reflective collars around stop signs that have A or B. The county will add collars to additional zones in the future and is working with Sarasota, North Port and Venice governments to have them install the collars on their stop signs.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season officially begins June 1, but Mother Nature doesn’t wait for government created timeframes and Tropical Storm Alberto already moved up the Atlantic Ocean past the Carolinas this week.
Colorado State University’s early predictions anticipates 10 named storms, four hurricanes and two intense hurricanes, and revisions to be made at the end of the month aren’t expected to dramatically change, but will be considered an average season.
Reid cautions of complacency as Florida has not seen a hurricane in six years — Wilma being the last in October 2005. But this year is the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew — the costliest hurricane in Florida history and third in American history next to Hurricane Katrina in 2004 and Ike in 2008.
"Every year we have new people, new residents in Sarasota County that come here form elsewhere. They don't know what a hurricane can do and maybe have been lulled into some complacency with the fact that they haven't seen any hard hits since perhaps Katrina," Reid said. "That can happen at any season."
Sarasota County’s Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane describes this weather season as being in neutral having going in between a La Nina and El Nino, which will start about October.
When forecasts are given this year, the National Weather Service will talk about hurricanes in terms of category and storm surge to help flood planning.
“The category of the storm is determined by the winds associated with that hurricane,” McCrane said. “The storm tide or storm surge is going to be a totally different matter. You may hear that it’s only a Category 2 hurricane but carrying 20 feet of storm surge. That’s a big indicator of what we use of what evacuation zones we need to evacuate.”
McCrane stressed having a good disaster kit ready along with some other pre-storm preparations.
“We want them to have enough provisions for at least three days preferably a week,” McCrane said, “but they also have to realize that the federal government is going through an economic slump right now, and we might not see the resources that we have in the previous years.
“The amount of trucks of food and water and ice might not be here as quickly if at all."
A good storm kit should at least include supplies for three days to a week without power and without the ability to shop for groceries, have copies of important documents, bug repellent, a full tank of gas in the car and cash.
“ATM machines and credit cards may not function during the first couple days of the storm,” McCrane said.
So what happens after the storm ?
• Stay in a protective shelter to avoid hazards until reports are given through media outlets, including Patch, that’s it’s all clear
• City and county teams and utility companies go out after the storm and start work
• Search and rescue teams will be deployed during catastrophic storms
• Siesta, Bird and Lido Key residents and business owners will have to go through a credentialing process before the storm to be allowed back on the barrier islands during the first phase of re-entry.
• Distribution centers for food and water will be announced and opened if grocery stores are closed
Disaster Supply Kit
Here are basic supplies you should have gathered for a Disaster Supply Kit, according to the Hurricane Guide for the Tampa Bay area:
• Two weeks supply of prescription drugs
• Seven days worth of non-perishable foods
• One gallon of water per person, per day (minimum seven days)
• Flashlights and seven sets of batteries for each member of the family
• Portable radio and seven sets of batteries
• First-aid book and kit with bandages, antiseptic, tape, compresses, aspirin and aspirin-free pain reliever, anti-diarrhea medication, antacid and more
• Mosquito repellant and citronella candles
• Fire extinguishers
• Instant tire sealer
• Whistle or air horn or flares or distress flag
• two coolers
• Plastic tarp, screening, tools, nails
• Water purification kit
• Cleaning supplies
• Camera with batteries and film
• Non-electric can opener
• Garbage can or bucket with tight-fitting lid and cat litter to use for emergency toilet
• Plastic trash bags
• Toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes
• Infant formula, diapers, etc
• Pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, air mattress
• Extra clothes, hats, shoes, eyeglasses
• Folding or lawn chairs
• Toothbrush, shampoo, soap, deodorant
• Important documents (insurance, medical info, license) and irreplaceable keepsakes
• Grill and matches