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Committee gets ready to prepare for the worst


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2001

CROSS CREEK -- New Tampa residents live beyond the reach of most major hurricanes, the most common natural disaster to strike Florida.

That's the good news from representatives of the New Tampa Emergency Preparedness Committee.

The panel of local emergency experts met with about 30 residents Tuesday to help kick start the committee, made up of representatives from both Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa. They answered questions and offered advice on setting up an evacuation plan.

"Part of coming down to live in our paradise is to be prepared," said Larry Gispert, Hillsborough County Emergency Manager.

Questions ranged from how authorities might handle massive terrorist activities and school shootings to which schools would be designated as shelters. The emergency switchboard has a reverse 911 system in place that can send verbal messages to all listed numbers and those unlisted who request to be added.

The real trouble can be when people panic or ignore warnings, they said.

"The biggest problem we have is citizen apathy," said Gispert. "If you wait long enough, the interstates are going to be a big parking lot."

With only one major road -- Bruce B. Downs Boulevard -- out of New Tampa, traffic is a real concern among residents there. Road improvements are years away.

Kern Wilson, Tampa's emergency manager, said development of an evacuation plan for the fast growing area will take time.

"We can work with you during the days," he said. "I can work with you during the nights. We will do whatever it takes to see it's done. But it won't be done tonight."

- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472.

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