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County may transport evacuees to shelters

A lack of evacuation centers in South Sarasota County presented a problem during Irma, but a new center is out of the question for the next hurricane season.

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  • | 3:20 p.m. January 24, 2018
Larissa and Ann Green were two of thousands who sought shelter from Hurricane Irma.
Larissa and Ann Green were two of thousands who sought shelter from Hurricane Irma.
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A transportation plan is coming together for the 2018 hurricane season, designed to get residents who don’t live near an evacuation center to safety.

With an after-action review scheduled in the coming weeks to evaluate how Sarasota County and its partners responded to Irma, local representatives got a sneak peek at the review’s findings Jan. 19 at the annual Convocation of Governments.

When Irma hit Sarasota in early September, 13 hurricane evacuation centers at county school buildings kept more than 20,000 people and 2,200 pets safe.

None of the centers in the county were in Venice, though mandatory evacuations were ordered throughout the county’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.  

Hurricane season begins June 1, and in lieu of constructing or fortifying a shelter in that area, officials are forming a transportation plan to take evacuees to shelters.

“Developing and implementing a transportation plan for the Venice area is the main thing,” said Sarasota County Director of Emergency Management Rich Collins, “because there’s no money for a new shelter.”

During Irma, for example, Booker High held 1,300 evacuees. Brookside Elementary housed about 500 pets and their owners. Venice evacuees could be transported by the county to those or similar evacuation centers if needed this hurricane season. 

Hurricane evacuation centers must meet guidelines from the American Red Cross, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Florida Building Code. These guidelines are a combination of structural requirements and life-sustaining amenities a building must have, such as bathrooms and food-preparation facilities.

A suitable building can be hardened to meet these standards, and the county is seeking state funding to start that process in Venice. However, that’s a long-term solution.

In October, the county hired Craig Fugate, the former FEMA administrator, to lead the review. Three peer reviewers also offered input on the county’s strengths and weaknesses in preparing for a major storm.  Their findings will be presented Feb. 9 to the same group of local representatives.

Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines said the timing of the review is important as officials prepare for future storms.

“The pressure we’re feeling right now — at least I am — is, hey, the next hurricane season is coming,” he said. 

“Most of our education to the public is in April and May. When we come out of the [Feb. 9 meeting] here’s our game plan so we can get that to those people, so we can say, ‘If this happens again ... ’”


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