When Tropical Storm Debby passed through the Gulf of Mexico in June, Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson was trapped on her flooded low-lying street on Siesta Key, forcing her to work from home.
She rented an SUV to prepare for such a hurdle as Tropical Storm Isaac approached the Gulf Coast Monday, Aug. 27, and was expected to generate a storm surge a foot greater than that of Debby. It didn’t.
The last time Sarasota County officials declared a local state of emergency was 2010 following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
This year, tropical storms have forced the action twice. Debby lingered near the coast and walloped the area with heavy rain and sustained winds, leaving with $5 million worth of sand ripped from Turtle Beach in June.
Isaac whirred past the tip of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico Aug. 28 and took an unexpected left turn, leaving Sarasota largely unaffected. Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid said he understands why people may think emergency officials jumped the gun, but he wouldn’t have changed the response.
“We were trying to be responsive and be proactive in our actions,” Reid said during an Aug. 27 interview — his first day getting back to running business as usual in the county administration building. The Eagle Scout has said he felt people in Florida have become too complacent during hurricane season.
“When people make comments it’s like, ‘Good, I’m glad you feel that way, I’m glad we were spared,’” Reid said of critics of the county’s storm response. Reid worked on a community cleanup detail after a tornado hit Ohio while he was in college. “You pick up manhole covers that you think are on the street and there’s grass underneath them,” he said. “You’re looking at a devastation.”
County commissioners declared a local state of emergency Friday, Aug. 24, and Sarasota County school officials canceled Monday classes the following day.
Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane, while addressing commissioners, said he wanted to be sure that the public knows the action was strictly administrative. Storm forecasts, such as the much-maligned economic forecasts, aren’t perfect.
The weekend activity, which included storm tracking and preparing shelters for Sarasota residents with special needs, was also a good primer for new emergency operations staff, Reid said.
“It was a good dry run for the next one,” Reid said. “I was pleased with the response.”