Seven days of self-reliance
Emergency management officials say those who are able must be ready to keep their families fed and functioning for a week after astorm.
By JUDY STARK
Published April 16, 2006
That's how long emergency management officials want you to be able to provide for yourself and your family this hurricane season.
Seven days without relying on the county, the state, FEMA, the Red Cross. Seven days in which you are prepared to be self-sustaining.
That means food, water, batteries, whatever it takes to keep yourself fed and functioning. For a week.
"Okay, citizens, you were appalled at what you saw on CNN'' in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said Larry Gispert, director of emergency management for Hillsborough County. "Wake up! Join the team!" Hurricane season in Florida is never more than six months away, "and whether Tampa takes a direct hit this year or next or the year after, you need to be prepared."
Seven days. "We've seen how the system can become overwhelmed in densely populated areas," said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, or FLASH, a partnership of the insurance industry, government agencies, nonprofits and businesses. "If you have means, become self-reliant so you don't weigh down a system that's trying to provide for those without any means, the elderly and the low-income."
Seven days. "That's how long it takes federal, state, and in some cases local government to get to all the people, fight through the debris with the resources required," said Jim Martin, the emergency management director in Pasco County.
The to-do list for the days after a major storm is daunting: Getting emergency workers out on the roads or in the air to assess the damage. Figuring out who needs what, where, and getting it to them. Clearing debris. Getting the power back on. After Hurricane Wilma struck the state's Atlantic Coast last fall, some areas were without power as long as six weeks. Restocking stores. Getting people out of shelters and back home. Reopening schools so life can start to get back to normal.
"It goes back to personal responsibility," said Gary Vickers, director of emergency management for Pinellas County. "If you have the means to do something for yourself, do it. The people we're going to be concerned with first are those who have nothing else'': the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, the poor, those without resources to help themselves.
"People should do what they can," he said, "and the people that can't are the ones we're trying to make sure get out of harm's way."
Those were the victims whose helpless plight so appalled the nation after Hurricane Katrina last August. Mindful of that, emergency management directors around Tampa Bay this year will focus on avoiding a repeat locally:
-- Arranging for public transportation to evacuate people who have no cars.
n Reaching out to minority groups and those who do not speak English. In Hillsborough, the county is getting the word out through town hall meetings, citizen advisory groups, bilingual handouts, and ethnic-oriented radio stations, retailers and churches. "We don't take it for granted that everybody knows what they need to do," said Hillsborough County communications director Lori Hudson. "We want to get the word out every way we can."
-- Being prepared to lead. The disarray in Louisiana among local and state leaders "very strongly reinforced that leadership is absolutely critical," Vickers said. Without it, society breaks down and lawlessness rules, he said. "I don't care how fast the Fed can move, it is still a local responsibility. You can't just step aside and say, 'The state will take care of that,' or the Fed. That's not an adequate response."
-- Creating more pet-friendly shelters so residents won't have to choose between abandoning a beloved animal to save themselves and staying in a danger zone with a pet.
Martin, of Pasco County, also makes this point: "If you're talking about a Category 3, 4, 5 hurricane, this is a regional-type event, not a Pasco-specific event." Storms don't stop at county lines, and the problem of debris removal, restoration of power and providing emergency housing for thousands of suddenly homeless people will have to be addressed on a broad scale.
Hear these words from the emergency management directors: The last place you want to go during a hurricane is a public shelter.
"They're a lifeboat, not a cruise ship," Vickers said. They're noisy and uncomfortable and crowded. "They're not a good choice."
"If we practice what we preach and love thy neighbor and open thy door, no one will have to go to a shelter," Gispert said. If you live in an evacuation zone, now's the time to talk to co-workers, friends, church members about staying with them.
The directors discourage residents from planning to drive long distances to evacuate. "There are plenty of areas that are high and dry and relatively safe" not far from home, Gispert said. "You don't need to go to Orlando or Atlanta." It can be dangerous to be on a highway or a bridge at the height of the storm. Stay closer to home.
"It's a culture of preparedness that's reasonable and achievable," said Chapman-Henderson of FLASH. "You'll be better off and happier if you've picked out your emergency food" and can eat it in your own protected home or that of a friend than you will be eating peanut butter and jelly in a public shelter.
There's a tendency to focus on hurricane day itself: gathering around the TV, studying the skinny black line and the cone of probability on the maps, watching the reporters blown sideways in the wind and rain on the beaches.
"But recovery is far worse than the event itself. Far worse," said Tom Leto, emergency management director in Hernando. And it lasts longer: days, weeks, months.
"There's an unrealistic expectation that everything will go back to normal" the morning after, Vickers said. "Depending on the size of the event, achievement of normalcy can take months."
Emergency workers are making their plans now: identifying mall parking lots or sports complexes with big, open spaces that can be emergency distribution centers for water, ice and food. Hillsborough will hire some temporary workers this summer to comb the county for vacant land where FEMA mobile home parks could be set up quickly. Other counties are improving their communications systems, lining up heavy equipment and emergency lighting.
But ultimately, the emergency directors say, it's up to each person to make a plan and be ready. "We need for people to expect that it's their responsibility to make themselves as safe as they can," Vickers said. "If the storm comes, you're ready. If not, you're good for another year. Don't try to play the odds. We will get hit. Why bet with your life?"
Judy Stark can be reached at (727) 893-8446 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified April 13, 2006, 16:07:26]
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