tampabay.com

State starts four-day hurricane practice

One mock disaster is a massive dike failure at parched Okeechobee.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 8, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - State emergency preparedness and response officials started a four-day practice exercise Monday to go through possible scenarios they may face this hurricane season.

Officials were working at the emergency operations center in Tallahassee as if they were dealing with a real hurricane, making decisions on how to respond to various scenarios. For example, one of the problems that will arise in the mock disaster is a massive dike failure at Lake Okeechobee.

The state has been working on a plan with counties around the lake for how to deal with such a breach, and that plan is being tested during the exercise, said Craig Fugate, Florida's emergency operations director.

In reality, the lake level and breach threat are extremely low right now, because of the drought that Florida is facing.

State emergency officials were also monitoring a real world situation, dry conditions that have led to wildfires in parts of the state.

Fugate said state and local governments were largely prepared for a potentially dangerous storm. But he also warned that success in dealing with a hurricane depends to a certain degree on individual residents being prepared themselves, with supplies and a hurricane plan.

Fugate also said the state has learned that some items it will need to distribute to people - such as water - are difficult to get quickly as a storm approaches.

The state is warehousing water, tarps and some other items at a warehouse in Orlando so it can quickly distribute them immediately after a storm.

The drill also includes making sure of basic things, such as state officials having updated phone numbers for county officials, for example.

The storm that emergency officials are using as a model in their response drill is based on the unnamed 1949 hurricane that hit Palm Beach County.

Officials are calling their drill storm Hurricane Tolbert, in memory of Eric Tolbert, a former state emergency management official who died last year.