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FL preps for hurricanes

Hurricane season officially begins June 1, but Florida emergency management officials haven't waited until the last minute to prepare.


"Everyone just hears this message to evacuate, and they evacuate whether they need to or not."

—Bob Collins

Hurricane season officially begins June 1, but Florida emergency management officials haven't waited until the last minute to prepare.

Part of the state's preparation is a partnership in a massive public relations campaign, run by a number of government agencies, including the National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Center in Miami and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That initiative, National Hurricane Awareness Week, ends today. The Web site includes a wealth of information on the subject.

Florida, however, is not stopping with this campaign, but has been actively working to improve several methods of communication to Florida residents. The newest addition to this information blitz is its own Web site that provides constantly updated emergency information.

This Web site allows people to type in their zip code and get specific information about what the hazards are in their area and where to evacuate if that is deemed necessary, in addition to general preparedness tips. This information can help both residents and relief workers, who sometimes have to deal with an overflow of people arriving at shelters that are already full.

During past storm warnings, thousands of people have evacuated "not understanding the hazards and how to protect themselves," said Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM).

"Everyone just hears this message to evacuate, and they evacuate whether they need to or not," added Bob Collins, hurricane program manager for the FDEM. The zip code feature allows residents to "make the decision that's the best for them and their families...so people don't have to jump on the highway and drive hundreds of miles to get to a safe area."

Emergency shelters have popped up all over the state since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Collins said, and residents need to know where the closest shelter is, and whether they should go there at all.

In many cases, Collins said, people who don't live in mobile storms or who don't live in storm surge areas will not have to evacuate. "In those circumstances, you're best recourse is to seek shelter in your own house," he said. "If you're not going to drown, then hunker down."

In addition, more general information on how families can prepare for any disaster - such as laying in stores of nonperishable food, bottled water, batteries and flashlights - are also provided.

"Our message is just to reiterate to families in the state to ready their family preparedness plan," said Ann Rowe, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs, of which the FDEM is a subsidiary branch. "You know, if you choose to live in Florida, you have a responsibility to have a family preparedness plan."

Other media, such as radio bulletins broadcast over the Florida Radio Network (a program run in cooperation with Florida public radio stations) and messages flashed on digital road signs, also provide critical information during hurricane season.

In addition "variable message signs" on roadways, installation of instruments that provide "dynamic traffic analysis" have helped make Florida roads more efficient for mass evacuations, according to Collins.

"Some of the real changes that have been made have been in making our evacuation routes more smart," he said.

Fugate said that the state has set up more evacuation routes that instantly reroute all traffic in one direction "in order to maximize your evacuation potential."

"That's one of the new tools in our tool kit," Fugate said.

The adoption of more stringent building codes within the last year is another step the state has taken which will reduce hurricane damage, he said.

"It's not something where you'll see an immediate effect," Fugate said, "but over the years we should see a reduction of building losses."

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Related Links:

National Hurricane Awareness Week Web site

Florida Division of Emergency Management Web site

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