Tampa Bay planners prepare for the worst: A category five hurricane

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The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina still haunts America, as many recall the failure of FEMA, the levees, and government response to the disaster. Now other coastal cities like Tampa are learning from the tragedy, and are investigating how to prevent a similar collapse of communication and infrastructure from happening in the future.

Today planning officials from all levels of government met at the Tampa Quorum hotel to explore how the Tampa Bay Region could respond to a direct hit from a category five hurricane.

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council organized the Catastrophic Planning Summit. They simulated a worst-case scenario category five storm called Hurricane Phoenix, which would devastate the bay area with storm surge and wind damage. The simulation pointed out the strength and weaknesses in the region’s plan for dealing with a catastrophic disaster. The State of Florida asked Betti Johnson of the planning council to organize nine counties for the summit.

Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano is the Chair of the Planning Council and addressed the assortment of agencies.
Yesterday Ruben Almaguer resigned as interim director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, and Governor Charlie Crist appointed David Halstead as the new director. No Emergency Management employees at the summit would comment on the leadership change. Douglas Wright is the Chief of Recovery for Emergency Management, and noted that while all disasters are local, a catastrophic event could impact the whole state.

To simulate the storm, FEMA used computerized risk assessment models which estimate storm surge heights, and the physical, economic, and social impact of floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Dan Noah with the National Weather Service, said that Tampa can expect a Category five hurricane every 120 years.

Noah also said that the warning process requires collaboration among broadcast and print media with the weather services and emergency management. David Myers, Director of Faith Based and Community Initiatives with the Department of Homeland Security, emphasized the importance of building relationships and partnerships during the preplanning process.

Today the groups brainstormed solutions for Tampa Bay’s vulnerability to disaster in several workshops at the summit. The Planning Council’s Betti Johnson instructed the participants.

The two-day summit concludes tomorrow, and WMNF will bring you the results. President Barack Obama has also asked for a Long Term Community Recovery plan, and a Natural Disaster Recovery Framework to be on his desk by April 1st. Those plans will provide guidance and resources from the federal government to better manage natural disasters on state and local levels.

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