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Disaster group plods along

The group, formed 14 months ago, has yet to draft an evacuation plan. Members say that will soon change.

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002


CROSS CREEK -- New Tampa's Emergency Preparedness Committee is having growing pains.

Fourteen months ago the committee formed with a single purpose: to draft an evacuation plan that could be used to educate residents about what to do in case of a disaster.

Now members are discussing showing PowerPoint presentations at homeowner association meetings, incorporating their group as an official non-profit organization, and completing disaster response training programs at the local fire station.

Those plans, however, are more difficult to enact than they are to conceive.

"We're talking about everything, but we're not doing anything," Bob Haas, told fellow committee members Wednesday evening at the New Tampa Regional Library.

The group, which has acted without a formal leadership structure, recently elected its first executive board. Previously, the core membership of 10-15 members were all responsible for delegating and completing tasks.

It hopes to finish setting up subcommittees next month, which will be responsible for such tasks as keeping track of finances and creating the strategic disaster plan.

To operate effectively, the all-volunteer group needs 15 to 20 more members. Despite a full plate of goals, the entire committee meets once a month.

"If you only meet for an hour-and-a-half, two hours, every month it's hard to get the ball rolling," said member Larry Hoban.

The committee originally formed as a splinter group of the New Tampa Community Council.

Lois Haas, a former co-chairwoman, acknowledged that the group has been sluggish about making decisions recently. Part of what happened, she said, was the group became overwhelmed by Community Emergency Response Team training. The courses, which are sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, aim to teach residents how to assist professional rescue teams in case of a disaster.

The first class will graduate in July and include at least eight members of the committee.

"People got very excited about CERT, and it took over the committee," she said.

In addition to starting the training, the committee printed up pamphlets and made itself known to city and county officials.

It has not completed an evacuation plan but Haas said that is not a worry. A full-plan could take 3-5 years.

Asked if the committee will function more smoothly in the future, she said: "Yes, absolutely."

- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at balz@sptimes.com

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