By Tamas Mondovics
Each May, ahead of the upcoming hurricane season, (June 1 through November 30) Tampa Bay area residents get a boost in hurricane awareness with one simple underlying message, “It only takes one storm to change your life and community.”
The above warning, which highlights the destructive nature of tropical cyclones and the need to be prepared, is as serious as ever.
Florida has been spared of a serious hurricane related weather event for more than a decade. Some members of the local, regional and state emergency agencies are yet to experience the effects of a dangerous storm from start to finish.
To make sure the next weather event does not catch anyone by surprise, Hillsborough County officials arranged for a number of events during Hurricane Awareness Week (May 15-21) to help prepare for the season, including the first on the roster, the annual Tampa Bay Hurricane Expo held each year at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).
The event drew hundreds of residents and answered visitors’ questions, and also shared the expertise of meteorologists from Tampa Bay area TV station and the National Weather Service, as well as local disaster response experts.
The weeklong awareness also included the Annual Hillsborough County Hurricane Exercise, which brought together representatives from county departments and agencies; Cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace; critical infrastructure representatives, such as TECO; and local community agencies involved in disaster response, to test their own storm readiness.
The test was held in conjunction with the state’s annual hurricane exercise at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center, (EOC) in Tampa, and saw 19 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) teams, who were joined by dozens of local organizations and agencies that would work in the EOC during an activation.
“The excursive helps us to make sure that everyone is ready,” said County Emergency Management Director, Preston Cook. “During the test each agency rehearses their roles, responds to unpredictable events, trains on the incident management response system, and practices with the EOC’s information-sharing system.”
The close to 120 that filled the EOC command center worked together while responding to this year’s scenario of a hypothetical hurricane named “Kimo,” a storm with an intensity of at least category 4, that was on its way to directly impact Hillsborough County. The scenario focused on events and actions prior to landfall, including evacuations.
While Cook was pleased with how the test went and the way everyone responded, he has acknowledged that the real test of readiness is yet to come.
“We prepare the same way no matter what,” Cook said adding, “We must be ready and, our citizens deserve nothing less than our best.”
The full-scale exercise was coordinated with the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Local first responders also attended additional training sessions at the EOC throughout the week.
Residents can find disaster preparedness information, evacuation zones, supply lists, and tips at www.HillsboroughCounty.org/Emergency or by calling 236-3800.