Tampa Bay ahead of curve with coordinated disaster prep study

08/25/11 Janelle Irwin
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The Atlantic coast is preparing for Hurricane Irene, highlighting the need for communities to have emergency plans. Reports, unlike many other places, the Tampa Bay region conducted a study in coordination with other regions throughout the state that could be used for more effective emergency procedures.

Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s Betti Johnson presented the regional evacuation study at a Tampa City Council meeting today. Johnson said evaluating different emergency scenarios from many regions reduces the possibility of leaving out important information.

The availability of shelters was one of the items evaluated in the multi-region study. Tampa shelters provide enough space to accommodate residents’ needs, but Johnson said this study showed what might happen if Tampa started seeing an influx of evacuees. She said shelters are often uncomfortable and people in evacuation zones should consider alternatives before flocking toward shelters, especially those with pets.

Depending on the emergency, not everyone in the Tampa Bay area will have to evacuate either. Johnson said residents who have made their homes safe from a storm should consider opening their doors to neighbors. Hurricane parties are a running joke along the gulf coast, but she said there is some truth to the fun that can come from neighborhood collaboration.

Those who can safely weather a storm are actually helping emergency procedures during an evacuation. Johnson said even in a mild storm, evacuation times average between 15 and 16 hours. The more severe the storm, she says, the longer an evacuation will take.

For those that do not evacuate, having access to a smart phone could be potentially life saving. Stories have surfaced regarding victims in Haiti who were rescued as a result of text messages or posts to social media sites. Use of internet or text messaging on a mobile phone uses less bandwidth and could get a message out when phone lines are jammed. But that tool doesn’t necessarily benefit everyone. Johnson said many residents who aren’t familiar with modern gadgets, or who don’t have access, are often the last to know.

Many residents have become complacent during hurricane season, but council member Lisa Montelione said it is important to stay informed.

For more information on the regional study as well as other tips for hurricane safety, visit their website

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