Heading into the office on his first day of work eight years ago, Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane had his work cut out for him. Sarasota County’s emergency management system had already been activated in response to Hurricane Wilma, and officials were already looking to McCrane for answers.
“All the chief officers were assembled in a command room,” he says. “They had an empty seat for me, and I walked in and sat down. They all turned and looked at me and asked, ‘So, what’s your recommendation?’”
In what many would find an intimidating situation, McCrane saw an opportunity to put his skills to use.
After retiring in 2003 from the Army, McCrane began working for emergency management at the state level, where he was also immediately put to the test. His duties spanned from the Florida Keys to Pensacola and beyond, and the heavy hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 drastically sped up his learning curve.
“I probably earned 20 years of experience in those two years,” he says. “I think there were eight hurricanes; there were just back-to-back disasters.”
So, immediately charged with spearheading Sarasota County’s emergency management system in 2005, McCrane says he simply fell back on the valuable experience he had gained at the state level. He recommended a voluntary evacuation for homes and mandatory evacuation for mobile homes.
“When I came here, my predecessor had more than 20 years of experience,” he says. “I didn’t have that, but I had the advantage of being able to apply the lessons I had learned from those two years (with the state).”
As emergency management chief, McCrane heads a team of five employees to prepare the county for any type of disaster or emergency, man-made or natural. In the event of a hurricane, his team is typically in charge, but, in other instances, its job is to support the appropriate on-scene responders and provide information to the public.
One of the major challenges McCrane and his team face is making everyone aware of the proper procedures and evacuation routes, especially in a city with a constant influx of tourists and transplants. He says it’s also difficult to make everyone realize that the dangers associated with hurricanes do, in fact, exist here.
“People think it can’t happen here, because it’s been so long since Sarasota has been hit,” says McCrane.
“And, everyone has heard how Sarasota is protected by a Native American blessing of some sort. Believe me, nobody hopes that’s true more than me, but that’s not how you plan.”
Emergency management is a year-round task. When not responding to an emergency, McCrane and his team host regular training and informational sessions to help spread knowledge and prepare residents for worst-case scenarios.
“We do have information that can save lives,” says McCrane. “We try to provide that as often as we can, to as many people as we can. It’s rewarding to know that something we tell someone could save their life.”
Contact Nick Friedman at [email protected].
BY THE YEAR
Since McCrane began his position in 2005, the Emergency Management System has been activated four times in Sarasota County.
2005 — McCrane started his first day with the system enacted for Hurricane Wilma.
2008 — Tropical Storm Fay
2010 — An H1N1 outbreak
2012 — Tropical Storm Isaac
McCrane offers tips for preparing for a hurricane. Above all, he says, the most important thing is to have a plan. Visit scgov.net for more information.
• Listen for weather updates on local stations and NOAA Weather Radio.
• Check, update and maintain disaster supplies.
• Set refrigerators and freezers to their coldest settings to help preserve food in the event of power outages.
• Refill prescriptions.
• Clear lawn of loose furniture and other potential airborne objects.
• Protect windows and glass doors with plywood or storm shutters.
• Maintain a full tank of gas in case of power outages.
• Acquire cash in case of power outages.
IF YOU GO
Disaster Preparedness Day — takes place from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Sarasota Farmers Market. Sarasota County Emergency Management will present information on a variety of subjects, including evacuation routes and shelters, personal, family and home preparations and planning for the needs of pets and medications for all family members.