MOCK HURRICANE EXCERSIZE IN PINELLAS COUNTY-Andrew Stelzer05/25/06
With Hurricane season set to officially begin On June 1st, Pinellas County held its annual simulation exercise, where employees from various county agencies come together and interact as if it were a storm situation. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer was there, and filed this report.
ACT â€œI'm Alice king, A14k, (all give names and numbers..â€?
Radios and other communications devices of all shapes and sizes sit in a small room in the corner of the Pinellas county emergency operations center. Some are high tech, and some are relics, but they are all the tools of the Amateur radio operators who have volunteered to be part of the countyâ€™s emergency operations team in the case of a hurricane.
ACT â€œDuring evacuation, we are responsible for all 24..â€? SOUND OF STATICâ€¦ CHANGING CHANNELS
Neil Larasen has been an amateur since 1979. Heâ€™s 1 of only 1400 shared resources high frequency operators in the US, who are able to run the systems which communicate with other EOC centers across the state and country.
ACT â€œWe provide back up systems to all systems, we expect to be used for eth first 2,3,4 daysâ€¦for instance, if the internet here went down, we could do email over radio for the whole group, wherever its neededâ€¦we do slow scan television, digital televisionâ€¦we donâ€™t send faxes, we send digital modeâ€¦â€?
In the main room next door people from the county sheriffs, EMS, fire, department of health, Human services, red cross, medical directors office, risk management, property appraisers, PSTA, general services, highway, utilities, emergency communications, information systems and communications are all talking to each other about what they would be doing in Hurricane Zoey, a fictional category 4 storms, scored a direct hit on Pinellas county. But Alice, whose has her amateurâ€™s license for 28 years, says they donâ€™t even know what resources they have at their disposal.
ACT-woman â€œThose people donâ€™t know what we can doâ€¦they put us in a category as amateurs not pros..but they canâ€™t do what we do..we just donâ€™t get paidâ€¦they donâ€™t know what ECSâ€¦they think of us as CB operators..we are CB operators. I donâ€™t want you to see it, the reason its there..we need to be able to guide them in andâ€¦â€?
Itâ€™s the second day of the so-called tabletop exercise, which has brought together more than 40 county employees from various departments. The first day was preparation for the storm, today is recovery, and right now is the beginning of the second shift of the dayâ€”all the people coming on have to catch up on whatâ€™s happened in the last several hours.
ACT- Kastow--ambiant â€œAs you can see we were hit by Zoey, 145 miles, weâ€™ve never experienced this..you're the second shift, damage assessment and debris clearance, we have to deal with those 3 objectives. I hope when you walked in, someone briefed youâ€¦we have cat 4 and heavy storm surge ..windâ€?
Dave Kastow, one of the countyâ€™s emergency management coordinators is running the exercise, went to Hancock county in Mississippi last year to help in the recovery period after hurricane Katrina.
ACT-kastow â€œThe scenario is a catastrophic cat 4, we've taken all bridges out of play, weâ€™ve told them there is no communications, so how will they work around transportation and communication issues..we saw that
Kastow says that Florida has the best emergency operations department in the country, but that doesnâ€™t mean they have lots of practice in working together.
ACT-kastow â€œWeâ€™ve done damage assessment, we've done this and that with smaller storms, but weâ€™ve been able to do it ourselves..with a storm like this, we wont be able to do all of those things..others are going to come in and help us..so how do we know what resources are out there, and how do we integrate them into our system..â€?
â€œAs far as county you will have fire, but you still will have to rely on sheriffsâ€¦.talkingâ€¦.â€?
Pinellas county EOC director Gary Vickers says the main goal of the exercise is looking for how well the various agencies are coordinated and where the gaps are in that coordination.
ACT-Vickers â€œWere in the recovery because this is what we havenâ€™t done..we've done prep, but not recovery..â€?
ACT-Vickers â€œRecovery is the hardest part of a hurricane..trying to restore people and care fro them, is job number 1â€¦â€?
But preparation is still important. The evacuation levels for about 12,000 Pinellas county properties have been adjusted since last year, about 3% of the countyâ€™s total land. Pinellas county will have a computer call the phones of those whose ones have been changed, urging them to call the county hotline were you can ask for your new zone, but the automatic calling system doesnâ€™t have access to cell phone numbers, so residents are urged to call the county to check of their evacuation level whether they get a call or not. Itâ€™s especially important, because after a storm, itâ€™s a foregone conclusion that many county employees, even those who are part of the emergency plan, wont be available to work.
ACT- Kastow-amb â€œYou also lost your resources..20-30 % off the bat, not available..â€?
SOUND â€œT 48 on mobile..SOUND OF COMMUNICATION OVER RADIO..â€?
And thatâ€™s where the radio amateurs come in.
ACT-Jonathan â€œ..but I thought itâ€™s the best way to be involved, learn life and death skills..â€?
Pinellas residents are encouraged to check out the website www.pinellascounty.org, or call 727-453-3150 to find out what evacuation zone they are located in.
For WMNF news, Iâ€™m Andrew Stelzer