Tampa first responders are geared up for hurricane season
Hurricane season starts tomorrow and itâs expected to be a busy one. Hurricane experts and emergency responders will educate Tampa Bay area residents on how to stay safe when a storm threatens during a hurricane expo Saturday.
âWorst-case scenario would be a tropical storm or a major hurricane making landfall just north of Tampa Bay and that would force a lot of water to circulate right into Tampa Bay and inundate downtown Tampa.â
Thatâs Brian LaMarre, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Ruskin. Hurricanes pack more than just strong winds and massive rainfall. LaMarre says severe weather resulting from tropical systems can also spawn deadly tornadoes.
âWe had one fatality in Highlands County when a woman was killed in her home when a tornado impacted that area.â
But Roy Paz with the Tampa Police Departmentâs special incident management unit says the biggest threat is storm surge.
âBecause that water comes in and it is devastating. It comes in very quickly, very violently and it takes everything away with it.â
Evacuation zones are split into five categories and people in those zones are told to head to higher ground based on their likelihood to flood. But because it has been almost ten years since Florida was directly hit by a hurricane, public complacency has become a problem for officials when evacuation orders are issued. Paz says even though it may be tempting to hunker down during a storm, that decision could cost people their lives.
âWhen they make these decisions, we want folks to take them as serious as possible because they donât make those decisions lightly. They know that when you evacuate, you disrupt peopleâs lives â youâve got to pick up, businesses shut down, all those things like that.â
Paz adds evacuating doesnât have to be a major inconvenience.
âYou donât have to drive all the way to another state or another city; we just want folks to evacuate out of the surge zone areas.â
When a storm does hit â and experts say thatâs a question of when, not if â first responders are ready. The Tampa Police Department has an amphibious military vehicle they can use for search and rescue operations.
âIt looks like a tank, sort of â not a tank with a gun on it, but itâs a really neat looking vehicle, very heavy â very heavy duty as a matter of fact â and our tactical response team uses this on a routine basis for high risk situations such as search warrants or if weâve got a barricaded suspect or something like that.â
And the Tampa Fire Department has specially trained dogs to find people who may be trapped beneath collapsed houses or other debris. Rico Palomino is a Lieutenant with the agency. His dog is a black lab named Primer.
âBasically, heâs going to go in there and eliminate which buildings we have to totally go through and search. If thereâs a building that collapsed, instead of us spending two hours searching a building, weâll send him in there and within a matter of a couple minutes, weâll know if thereâs somebody alive in that building.â
Despite preparation and training, Governor Rick Scott is worried that across the board spending cuts known as the sequester could strain Floridaâs readiness because nearly 1,000 people in the National Guard will have to take furloughs during the summer. Bob Deans is director of federal communication for the Natural Resources Defense Council. In a phone interview Deans said other cuts could impact agencies that predict hurricanes.
âMoney that would go to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help monitor some of these things that weâve been talking about, thatâs been cut.â
But the National Weather Serviceâs LaMarre says so far, forecasters at the Ruskin office havenât felt the squeeze.
âWeâre here 24/7 and we plan to be here 24/7 through the hurricane season and we have almost 30 people that work around the clock at our office. So, anything that would impact us budget-wise would be decisions made well above our office level. But I think the main point to emphasize is that we are there 24/7 making sure that warnings and information get out to the public.â
The hurricane expo at MOSI is Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Speakers include first responders, hurricane survivors and experts from the National Weather Service.
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