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East County Thursday, May 12, 2022 1 week ago

Manatee offers preparedness expo as hurricane season approaches

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Designed to help residents form a plan, the Hurricane Preparedness Expo will feature 45 displays and more than 20 emergency vehicles.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

Steve Litschauer, the Manatee County Emergency Management chief, said that during hurricane season, the public often doesn’t realize how quickly a seemingly unremarkable situation can become a serious threat.

“If a storm gets in the Gulf of Mexico, it can go from what I call an afternoon thunderstorm to a Category 3 to a Category 5 in three days,” he said. “And three days is not time enough to come up with a plan, to come up with your supplies.”

Helping to prepare for such a scenario is the Manatee County Hurricane Preparedness Expo, presented by Emergency Management, from 4-7 p.m. May 17 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto.

He said even though some areas, such as Lakewood Ranch, might not be located along the coast, hurricanes can still impact them.

"If people lose power, then what will they have?" he said.

A previous expo took place in March 2020, and Litschauer said he was glad to return to the event.  The expo will feature 45 displays, as well as more than 20 different emergency vehicles. The event is designed to help those who attend to form a plan.

He said one aspect of planning the event will emphasize is the importance of supplies.

“When you go grocery shopping now, the grocery store will have 100% of the items you want on a given day,” he said. “Above all, stock up on your supplies now. Even if a storm is coming in five days, those grocery store shelves are going to be be empty.”

He also said the expo will help people understand whether they should leave their home based on their evacuation level as well as its construction quality. During Hurricane Irma in 2017, Litschauer said, the county saw many people visiting shelters even though they did not need to do so. He said this can take space away from those who actually require it.

“Some people live in brand new homes that have wind ratings of 130-150 mph, in low or non-evacuation areas,” he said. “We want for them to know that at their level, they don't need to go to a shelter.”

He said shelters are not places where it is comfortable to spend time.

“It's a safe place, and you get fed, but you have to take your own bedding, you have to take your own chair, and you're in there with hundreds of people that you may not know," he said.

Jim Emanuelson, the president of the Community Emergency Response Team branch in Lakewood Ranch, who is attending the expo as part of a countywide CERT coalition, said preparedness is important for residents from his area for multiple reasons. 

Hurricanes create high winds, which can also produce small tornadoes, and they can bring storm surge. He said parts of Lakewood Ranch are in the A-level evacuation zone because storms could carry water up the Manatee and Braden rivers.

Emanuelson said that in the week before Hurricane Irma arrived in 2017, he observed 3 feet of water in Greenbrook Adventure Park.

He said if a storm does turn out to be serious, evacuation will prove difficult.

"You seen what traffic on I-75 is like on a Friday afternoon," he said. "Imagine when you've got a million or more people trying to evacuate a storm from our south, and add that to what we normally see on a Friday. It's going to be hard to get around."

A variety of different vendors will be on site. Those include Manatee County's 311, Animal Services, Beach Patrol Division, Emergency Management Division, Sheriff's Office and Public Works, along with the Bradenton and Palmetto police departments and East Manatee Fire Rescue.

Some other private organizations on hand include WrightWay Emergency Services, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Manatee County Search & Rescue, Florida Power & Light, Peace River Electric, Mr. Handyman and multiple insurance companies.

Displays will include information on stocking up on batteries and how to have shutters installed. 

Vehicles on display will include jet skis from Beach Patrol, canteen trucks from the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, and the Rapid Activation Patient Treatment or Rehab ambubus from Emergency Services, an ambulance bus for transporting large numbers of people.

Mike Dvorack, the public information officer for nonprofit Manatee Search & Rescue, which responds to incidents from throughout the county on behalf of other public safety entities, said that the organization is displaying two military-style vehicles, a light-medium tactical vehicle, which is also a high-water off road rescue vehicle, and a Humvee, which can also access high-water areas. 

Litschauer said most of the vehicles on display are used in the community. Some of the boats were deployed during hurricanes Michael and Katrina, and the ambubus was also deployed during Hurricane Michael.

Dvorack said that his organization has put the vehicles on standby for hurricanes in the past.

The date of the event has also been moved closer to hurricane season.

Dvorack said last year's event offered "a lot of knowledge and information for anybody who attended. Definitely, the people that were there last time have signed up to be there this time because it's very beneficial."

"I thought it was a great event to help educate residents in the area about preparedness and all the different services to Manatee County offers, so I'm looking forward to this one," Emanuelson said. 

Litschauer emphasized his point about preparedness. “Well, my catchphrase is, know your home and how well it's constructed. Know your evacuation level. Have a kit and have a plan. Some people have said there hasn't been a storm here. But it only takes one. Ask Mexico Beach, or ask Port Charlotte, or ask Miami, or ask the East Coast. It only took one to devastate their community.”

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