Hurricane Preparedness in Pinellas County

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1 Emergency Management Contact: Gary Vickers, Director (727) Hurricane Preparedness in Pinellas County Hurricane Katrina s devastation in the Louisiana- Mississippi area has refocused attention on emergency management in the Tampa Bay area. Pinellas County s special concerns are its sizable senior population; 50,000 mobile homes and almost 39,000 households without access to vehicles should they receive an order to evacuate. (Hurricane Katrina damage in Pascagoula, Mississippi) (Hurricane Charley damage to a mobile home park in Charlotte County, 2004) Pinellas County Statistics From the U.S. Census 2003 American Community Survey: Pinellas County has 11.1 percent of its citizens living below the poverty level, or about 100,262 people. The estimated number of households without vehicles is 38,607. Sections of Clearwater/Largo and Midtown have 32 percent or more of their households without available vehicles. The estimated population of Pinellas County in April 2005 was 947,670 people. Preliminary Population Estimates for 2005 Evacuation Levels: Improved technology allowed Pinellas County Emergency Management to increase the accuracy of its hurricane evacuation maps in As a result, about 69,000 parcels received new evacuation levels. Pinellas County has notified those property owners of the changes and has aggressively communicated the need for all citizens to check their evacuation levels this hurricane season.

2 Evac Level Residential Units Residential Units % Estimated Population A 101, ,758 B 59, ,043 C 60, ,651 D 61, ,585 E 31, ,346 Total 546,383 Note: Remaining population lives in non-evacuation areas. How Would Pinellas County Handle a Catastrophe Like Hurricane Katrina? Pinellas County closely monitors all storms that may pose a possible threat to Florida. Local emergency efforts would kick in the moment the forecast placed the hurricane within three days of Pinellas County. Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners would strive to provide as much advance notice as possible in issuing a mandatory evacuation; for example, for a Category 5 storm, an evacuation notice would be given 30 hours prior expected landfall. With a Category 5 storm approaching, 6 hospitals, 35 nursing homes and 118 assisted living facilities (ALFs) would be evacuated to predesignated like facilities (hospitals to hospitals, nursing homes to nursing homes, etc.) within the county. This occurred successfully last year with the anticipation of Hurricane Charley. We have 10 hospitals in non-evacuation areas, along with 44 nursing homes and 152 ALFs. Sunstar ambulances would assist in the evacuation of hospitals and nursing homes affected by the order. Assisted living facilities are responsible for their own transportation, but would be assisted if necessary. All health care facilities in Florida must have an evacuation plan, and those plans are required to be reviewed by Emergency Management. All disaster planning information for Pinellas County facilities is updated yearly. A designated fleet of 232 buses 73 from PSTA and 159 from Pinellas County Schools - would pick up those with special needs and those without transportation and take them to shelters, with additional buses in reserve if needed. After Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of Florida in 1992, the state developed a mutual aid system that brings resources and workers first responders, public works crews, law enforcement and health professionals to areas that need them after a disaster. The Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) would begin to place requests for aid as the storm s impact became evident, which would be met by other areas in the state. These resources, which could

3 include National Guard troops, would be staged well out of harm s way until the threat passed and then would immediately move in. A request for a federal disaster declaration would immediately be placed with the state if required. During hurricane season, storm surge is the worst danger that Pinellas County will face. Parts of the county would flood, but unlike New Orleans, waters would recede more quickly. A storm of the magnitude of Katrina would have these effects on Pinellas: A Category 5 hurricane could send more than 20 feet of water into low-lying communities such as Shore Acres. Flooded areas would temporarily isolate many parts of Pinellas County and render assistance difficult until waters receded. Based on Pinellas County s topography, storm waters would recede in six to 24 hours. New Orleans, on the other hand, saw weeks of flooded streets, as water must be pumped from this subsea-level city surrounded by levees. These waters would wash building debris, foliage and other household items into streets, yards and other open areas. All storm shelters in Pinellas County are built to withstand a Category 3 hurricane. These are solid concrete structures and such structures fared very well during Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane. A few shelters are located within D or E evacuation levels, but have been individually assessed to verify that their first floor elevation is above a Category 5 storm surge level. In the event of a Category 5 storm, the shelter population would be asked to move to the interior portion of the building to prevent injury due to any possible compromises in windows or roofing. As soon as storm force winds reduce to about 45 mph, a speed to operate emergency vehicles, search and rescue efforts would begin to locate people trapped in the rubble of those areas most affected by the storm. Public Works crews would simultaneously begin clearing debris from roadways. Once road cleanup was under way, crews would begin restoring public utilities such as water, power and sewer. Generators would kick in to restore power in special needs shelters and most emergency facilities. Pinellas County s 800-megahertz radio system is expected to withstand a Category 3 storm with very little damage and would remain operational. If a Category 5 storm hit, the radio towers should withstand the hit, but the system would probably lose some antennas, and lines would be damaged. Even then, it would be somewhat operational, and the whole system could probably be back up within 24 hours. The county also has a portable radio tower that can be used to supplement the system or deployed to other impacted areas if needed. Motorola support personnel are based in Pinellas County, and the county has spare antennas and lines for quick repairs. All public safety agencies in the county have the ability to access our EOC via radios. The county also has a supply of satellite phones, which are coordinated by Emergency Management staff. These are assigned to EOC, EMS, Administration and Emergency Communications personnel as needed.

4 Priorities for restoring water, sewer and/or electricity would be hospitals, nursing homes, health care facilities, shelters, law enforcement, fire and other government facilities; followed by general residential and commercial structures. Residents should be prepared to live without these services for a week or more after a Category 5 storm. The federal government would provide transitional housing as soon as possible after the storm s passage for evacuees who couldn t return home. Pinellas County would not have a Superdome scenario like New Orleans. There are no plans to house evacuees in Tropicana Field, because the facility is not built to withstand hurricane-force winds. Another difference between Pinellas County and New Orleans: our neighborhoods with lowincome residents are not necessarily the most vulnerable to storm surge. On the Pinellas peninsula, beaches and waterfront communities, some of our top real estate, would sustain the most wind and water damage during a major hurricane. Although any resident in a potentially vulnerable or unsafe dwelling is encouraged to seek safe shelter, evacuation levels are based on storm surge. Not all areas of Pinellas County are vulnerable to storm surge. Some have suggested evacuating ALL residents out of the county. This is not a viable plan for several reasons. There is no way to predict exactly where a storm will hit. We could, theoretically, send our residents into harm s way. Plus, residents who wished to return home soon after the storm could be stuck in locations far from their homes until efforts to bring them back could be coordinated effectively. Also, some citizens do not live in storm surge vulnerable areas and may not wish to leave. General Hurricane Preparations A Category 5 storm would require the evacuation of approximately 546,000 Pinellas residents. Based on state estimates, about 136,500 residents would seek public shelter in a Category 5 storm. Shelter populations during the most serious storm threats have indicated that estimates are high. Either way, Pinellas County would prefer to have more shelter space. Our current shelter capacity is about 70,000 not enough. The county is always looking for additional buildings that would meet code standards for shelters. Surrounding governments would provide shelter assistance to our residents. We also have alternatives in refuge facilities of last resort. These facilities could be utilized to house evacuees during the height of the storm, but are not preferable sheltering options. Shelter conditions are very spartan. They currently stock three days worth of food and water, with staff to accommodate evacuees and law enforcement personnel to keep order. No beds, chairs or mats are provided. Oxygen-dependent residents can go to special needs shelters that have medical personnel on hand. These residents and any others who are designated as special needs patients are encouraged to

5 pre-register with Emergency Management, (727) , for bus transportation to special needs shelters. Other residents without transportation are also encouraged to pre-register with their municipality or nearest fire department for transportation to general shelters. During an evacuation, any special needs patients or others without transportation may contact their municipalities or the county s Citizens Information Center, (727) for transportation to shelters. However, pre-registration is strongly advised to ensure ample buses are prepared to assist with transportation. Pinellas County Emergency Management s year-round key message is that residents develop a hurricane plan: Know your evacuation level, and know where you will go if you need to evacuate. Seek shelter with relatives, friends and other host home arrangements before choosing to seek refuge in a county shelter. Prepare a hurricane kit with a week s worth of nonperishable food, water, medical supplies and personal items. Protect your valuables as much as possible from high winds and high water. When asked to evacuate evacuate. News reports are full of dramatic rescues and shocking pictures of human remains that are proof that it s foolish to ignore evacuation orders. If your local government or law enforcement asks you to evacuate, go! Latest Preparation Efforts In September, Pinellas County began a massive public information campaign to reach the segment of our population most vulnerable to high winds those who live in the 50,000 or so mobile homes. Area fire departments helped to distribute packets of information to nearly 350 mobile home communities. General county shelters do not accept pets, except for service animals. To assist residents with pets who have nowhere else to go during an evacuation, Pinellas County now has a pet-friendly shelter. The St. Petersburg Judicial Building in downtown St. Petersburg will house up to 400 pets (dogs and cats only) and 400 people. An agreement is pending to open an additional pet-friendly shelter in Harbor Hall in downtown Palm Harbor, which would hold 75 people and up to 75 pets (dogs and cats only). The pet-friendly shelters are intended for mobile home residents and those living in evacuation levels A, B and C. However, priority will be given to mobile home residents. Pet owners must register in advance and bring animals in cages in order to enter the shelter. Dry dog and cat food is provided, along with cat litter. Pet owners are responsible for any special diets and the care of their pets. The shelter will not accept unattended pets. To register, call Animal Services at (727) Updated 9/22/05

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