More than 70 years have passed since the Sarasota area experienced a direct hit from a hurricane.
But the fact that the area has been lucky doesn’t mean there won’t be a hurricane this season, and residents should prepare for the worst.
“It’s important to develop a plan on a so-called blue sky day,” said Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Don Hermey. “People can really think it through now, compared to not having a plan if the worst happens and just reacting. Chances are, you’ll forget something.”
Officials recommend that residents stock up on disaster supplies, including medicines, food, drinking water, first aid supplies, flashlights, a nonelectric can opener and fire extinguisher.
In the event of an evacuation, residents should take pillows, blankets, extra clothing, folding chairs, toiletries, important papers and documents and irreplaceable keepsakes.
Hermey recommends people make a checklist to prepare.
“People need to focus on their plans to ensure they’ve covered all the basics, which includes food, water, where they’re going when they’re evacuated and what they’re doing to protect their buildings if they’re staying,” he said.
The forecast for hurricane season calls for a season with a below-average number of storms.
“I anticipate the number of storms this year will be in line with what the predictions are,” said Bryan Koon, emergency management director for the state of Florida. “I don’t know where any of the storms will go, and I can’t tell you whether we’ll have a hurricane hit Florida, but we are preparing as if we are going to have multiple hurricanes hit Florida this year.”
Barrier islands, such as Longboat, Lido and Siesta keys, are most likely to be evacuated.
“There’s a very high likelihood that with storm surge, people on the islands will be evacuated before people on the mainland,” Koon said. “Even if their homes are dry, it won’t be safe to be out there, and the roads could be impassable. For the folks right on the water or very near the water, planning for an evacuation is important.”
Those living farther east aren’t as likely to face an evacuation, but they still need to plan for a potential disaster.
“For folks farther inland by I-75, they might not have to leave, and they may be best served by riding it out,” Koon said. “They’re the ones who especially need to consider a generator and buy a greater amount of supplies if they weather the storm. Sometimes they just have to let the roads be clear for folks who truly need to evacuate.”
Communication is also key in preparing for a hurricane.
“The other critical component is communicating the plan you have with your neighbors and your loved ones, not only in the area but also outside the area,” Hermey said. “If your loved ones don’t know what’s going on, the stress can radiate outside the area, and that is the last thing people need or want in a hurricane.”
If residents are evacuated, they could be given anywhere from hours to days to leave.
“Warnings will vary according to the storm,” Hermey said. “If the storm is moving through the Gulf at 4 mph and it’s 400 miles away, one can do the math and say, ‘I’ve got days.’ If it’s moving at 15 mph and it’s only 100 miles away, it’s another story. You’ve got hours.”
Disaster Preparedness Seminar
The Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce and the town will host the 13th Disaster Preparedness Seminar from 3 to 6:30 p.m. June 8, at Longboat Key Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road.
Bryan Koon, the state’s emergency management director, will be the keynote speaker. Other speakers will include Julius Halas, director of the State Fire Marshal’s Office and former Longboat Key Fire Rescue chief; Bob Harrigan, ABC-7 chief meteorologist; Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Don Hermey; Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Edward McCrane; and representatives from the Longboat Key Police, Fire Rescue and Public Works departments.
“It’s been several years since we have experienced any kind of hurricane landfall in Florida, so many residents are either new to the area and have never experienced a hurricane, or their state of preparedness may have declined over those years,” Assistant to the Town Manager Susan Phillips said. “This event will emphasize the things they can do at home to protect themselves, their pets and their boats and raise the awareness for all residents, businesses and visitors.”