Tampa Bay Readies for 2015 Hurricane Season
By Tamas Mondovics
June 1 to November 30, is a period considered by experts most likely for tropical activity in the ocean basin, so it’s no surprise that early tropical storm Ana made many in the southeastern portion of the country sit up and take notice as it made its appearance weeks ahead of the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Ana marked the earliest subtropical or tropical storm to form in the Atlantic since 2003.
With or without Ana and, ahead of the annual hurricane preparedness week (May 24-30), local officials and representatives of more than 40 agencies from County departments; cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City; critical infrastructure representatives, such as TECO; and local community agencies involved in disaster response, gathered to test the readiness of Hillsborough County’s Office of Emergency Management last month during its annual hurricane exercise.
Hillsborough County, Office of Emergency Management, director Preston D. Cook explained that the exercise, which is part of a statewide effort, gave representatives from various organizations and agencies that would actually work in the facility during an activation, the opportunity to rehearse their roles.
“This is a big day fro us as we prepare to serve the county in an emergency event,”Cook said, adding that the day of the exercise was actually the culmination of a week-long project, which allowed all agencies involved to go through the necessary steps and make sure everyone will be ready for the real thing.
This year’s statewide exercise was a hypothetical storm named “Hurricane Gibson,” based on a 1928 storm that devastated the Lake Okeechobee area before sweeping north through the Florida peninsula.
The exercise’s scenario began 48 hours after the storm has passed, testing responders’ efforts to provide widespread humanitarian relief and clean up damage, giving participants the chance to practice the Emergency Operations Center’s messaging and tracking system that allows tasks and action requests to be sent quickly from one agency to another.
During the event, Cook spoke highly of all those gathered at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center, 2711 E. Hanna Ave., in Tampa, calling the large group a “very seasoned team” who are able to find a way to work together, as well as find any shortfalls that need to be fixed.
“There is a lot of experience in this building, but we need it as technology is changing and we are suing of it to work together,” he said.
Motivated by the slogan “Be Ready Tampa Bay!” the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County supported by a throng of volunteers also the bay area’s annual Tampa Bay Hurricane Expo at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) 4801 E. Fowler Ave. in Tampa.
Expo organizers said that as it has been the case in the past, the event’s goal and mission is simple, but bold: to educate residents on the importance of knowing their evacuation zone and on making adequate survival plans for any emergency.
“The Tampa Bay area is extremely vulnerable to many hazards, particularly hurricanes,” said Senior Program Coordinator at Hillsborough County Emergency Management Ted Williams prior to the Expo. “That is why we are hosting this free event that we believe will better equip our community with the tools to prepare themselves for the upcoming hurricane seasons.”
With the countdown to the 2015 hurricane season winding down, County officials have also hosted a special event on Friday, May 8, prompting multiple departments and emergency response agencies to provide disaster preparedness information to employees and their families.
“Safeguarding lives and providing critical services are Hillsborough County government’s most important responsibilities during a natural or manmade disaster,” said Michelle Van Dyke with Hillsborough County Communications. “County employees are required to designate the roles they will take to help residents before, during, and after a disaster – which means employees must have personal plans in place long before the first warning signs.”
Residents can find disaster preparedness information, evacuation zones, supply lists, and tips at www.HillsboroughCounty.org/Emergency, or by calling (813) 236-3800.
2015 Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Names:
Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Erika, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Joaquin, Kate, Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa, Victor and Wanda.