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County braces for hurricane season

As the county's emergency operations center opens its doors to prepare for hurricane season, officials suggest residents should get ready, too.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002


BROOKSVILLE -- Cautioned that Florida has skirted the inevitable perhaps too long, Hernando County officials stand ready for the 2002 hurricane season that started Saturday.

Twenty-six emergency management and related staff members attended training sessions at the recent state hurricane conference in Tampa, and the county's emergency operations center will open this week for the state's annual hurricane drill.

The county has distributed hurricane guides in conjunction with local newspapers, and has more available in its office at the Hernando County Government Center. The shelter list remains the same, and the Suncoast Parkway officially has been added to the evacuation routes.

The American Red Cross Coast to Coast Chapter has volunteers on call and its interagency agreements in place, spokeswoman Shelley Allen said. The school district has updated its call lists and transferred all the needed food into the freezers of the schools that will serve as shelters, said Barry Crowley, the district's coordinator of safety and security.

"Dr. Gray says time is up," emergency management program manager Annette Doying said, referring to Colorado State University hurricane expert William Gray.

Gray has predicted 11 named storms this year, including six hurricanes -- two of them major. Florida, he warned, is a sitting duck.

"It's a gamble. We've gone too long, too lucky," Doying observed. "We should be prepared."

Easing the effort this year is a notable lack of tension in the Emergency Management Department. Fire Rescue Operations Chief Danny Roberts stepped in as interim director, replacing Bill Appleby, who resigned under pressure amid a series of employee complaints against him.

Roberts did not worry that his temporary status might hinder any reaction to a storm this hurricane season.

"I've got the experts in my office here. My job is to manage and assist them in any way I can," he said. "I really don't see a problem. We just had to do a lot to get back on path. We'll manage a hurricane like we have everything else. It's a team approach."

In past years, the county has faced the prospect of not having enough shelter space that meets state standards. The county has made adjustments, Doying said.

People who come to shelters will stay in gyms and cafeterias as before, she said, but as soon as the winds surpass 45 mph, everyone will move to better-secured hallways and locker rooms. All shelters selected now have sufficient space that meets state standards, Doying said.

The Red Cross will operate the shelters, as usual. Allen said the agency has several volunteers, but it can use more.

She suggested than anyone who wants to help at the shelters get training before an emergency happens. For information, visit the area Red Cross Web site at www.daytonaredcross.org or call the local training center at 799-3237.

The most important thing now, Roberts said, is for residents to get ready for the season. They should put together a disaster kit and write a list of last-minute items to pick up. Plans for each family member and pets also are useful, Allen said.

"It's never too early to prepare," Doying said.

-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to solochek@sptimes.com.

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