As Bertha, the first Atlantic hurricane of the 2008 season brushes by Bermuda as a strong tropical storm, a recent survey has found fewer than a third of Florida residents are ready for a hurricane if one strikes this year.
A recent poll conducted by the Mason-Dixon polling organization found 67 percent of Atlantic and Gulf Coast residents do not have any kind of a hurricane survival kit and 54 percent said they do not believe they are vunerable to a hurricane or any related tornadoes or flooding.
Perhaps even more alarming is that 13 percent of those polled said they would not or probably would not evacuate their homes even if they were ordered to do so by authorities. A similar 2007 poll found just 12 percent of residents have made any improvements in their homes to make them less vunerable to hurricane damage.
While many national disater response organizations say they are prepared to respond to a hurricane if it hits Florida, many of the local disaster response organizations -- having not faced a hurricane during the past two seasons -- are operating on limited staff and budgets.
Jody Hill, director of Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster, said that many of the inclusive community collaboration agencies are largely dormant, having been inactive for two years.
Budget cuts throughout the state, caused by a cut in the state property taxes, have left some organizations in a lurch, as well. Hill said the annual Emergency Management Preparedness Grants, used by county agencies for their readiness planning, were also not funded due to the decreased revenues to the state.
Most counties have directors or coordinators in place whose jobs are to make sure the counties have a plan in place. But because of budget cuts, many have taken on other responsibilities as well so they have less time to spend preparing for a disaster.
Marian MacNeill of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) lives in Florida and travels across the country to organize teams when disaster strikes.
She said faith-based teams from PDA and other organizations are ready to respond to disasters when they happen. While each storm or flood or other disaster is different, she believes the basic ways of taking care of people is the same when the process begins.
Jill Black of the Salvation Army in Jacksonville said the Army is working with the Florida Division of Emergency Management to try to encourage people to make a plan and get ready for storms that could strike during hurricane season.
Plans that were fine tuned and beefed up after the very active 2004 hurricane season are still in place. The Florida VOAD, who met earlier this month to make sure disaster response organizations are all up-to-date with the information they need, is ready to go in an emergency.
"They (Florida VOAD) are increasing their capacity to work cooperatively with all the agencies," Hill said.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association (NOAA) predicts the 2008 hurricane season will be a "near normal or above normal" one in the Atlantic this year. Their meteorologists anticipate 12 to 16 named storms will form in the Atlantic Ocean between now and the end of November and that six to nine of those storms will become hurricanes. They will not predict how many of those might strike land.
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