Tuesday, November 13, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando commission wants faster debris pickup after next hurricane

BROOKSVILLE — For Hernando County residents, Hurricane Irma already is the stuff of stories, repair bills and mental notes to buy batteries and bottled water at the start of storm season this year.

But for those who ran the storm response, including about 40 officials with Hernando County Emergency Management, government workers, school district employees and volunteers, this is the time to critique what worked and what didn’t.

The first draft of the After Action/Improvement Plan by Emergency Management details where more training, better equipment, more coordination and discussion can improve future storm responses.

Among the suggestions were:

• Expanding available space for pet-friendly shelters.

• A more coordinated public information message.

• Weather monitoring at the Emergency Operations Center.

• Improving procedures for the special needs shelter.

• Examining the sand bag distribution process.

• Increasing capacity for phone calls and expanding wireless availability.

Better training for those involved in the emergency response, and better planning for resources — from communications devices and generators to non-perishable shelter supplies and fuel — also were recommended.

A top priority for county commissioners is faster and more efficient clean up of storm debris. In the weeks after the storm, they heard plenty from constituents about piles of branches, trunks, leaves and construction debris sitting ignored on front yards for too long.

Irma was the first storm since Hernando County took over emergency operations from the Sheriff’s Office last February. The County Commission made that choice after criticism about the warning system and the immediate response when Hurricane Hermine brushed Hernando County in 2016, causing coastal flooding.

Hernando County administrator Len Sossamon said Irma was the biggest challenge the county faced last year.

"She turned our months of September and October into a tempestuous season of survival against some of the greatest storm-related challenges our county has faced in decades,’’ he told the Times.

"While Hernando’s Gulf Coast was spared the damage from winds and storm surge produced a year earlier by Hurricane Hermine," he said, "Irma gave Hernando County the greatest flood challenge it has faced since 2004 when the Withlacoochee River rose to the level of 16.55 feet.

This year, the Withlacoochee River rose to a flood level of 17.67 feet, and it remained at flood stage for six weeks.’’

That made Hurricane Irma’s aftermath the fifth-worse river flooding in Hernando County’s history.

The all-time high flood level was reached in 1934 when the Withlacoochee rose to 20.38 feet, Sossamon noted.

Adding to discomfort in the community, power was out for days or longer after Irma for many residents, roads were closed and finding gas was a challenge. The arrival of food in grocery stores and opening of fast-food outlets prompted excitement from hungry residents tired of canned tuna and snack food.

Communication among local, state and regional emergency managers and weather forecasters, as well as adequate public information, were cited as strengths in the storm response critique. .

The draft plan will become complete after agency representatives provide their own written input, county officials said.

Sossamon praised his staff and community partners for the many hours they worked together in the storm. They "handled an extremely trying time with a great deal of calm and composure," he said

He also complimented local school leaders, workers and volunteers. Because of their efforts, "we sheltered more than 6,000 evacuees during the hurricane, the greatest number in our history. The previous high was during Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 when 1,434 evacuees were housed.’’

Irma was an extraordinary storm spreading damage throughout the state, but Sossamon said the county can do better with debris collection next time by having more contractors lined up ahead of time. Hermine left the county with 10,000 cubic yards of debris, he said, but Irma left behind 120,000.

"Overall,’’ Sossamon said, "we learned that we can never be prepared enough.’’

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

Comments
'We just keep asking why,' says family of man shot dead by Lakeland store owner

'We just keep asking why,' says family of man shot dead by Lakeland store owner

Christobal Lopez's family describe him as a peaceful man and criticize a judge's decision to let his killer, now-former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn, go on an out-of-state vacation.
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Losing Hudson and Mittye P. Locke elementaries? Pasco parents, students and teachers push back against proposed school closings

Losing Hudson and Mittye P. Locke elementaries? Pasco parents, students and teachers push back against proposed school closings

Two west Pasco schools are recommended for closure as officials seek to consolidate students and programs. Reaction to the idea hasn't been overly positive.
Updated: 16 minutes ago
A wrong-way driver slammed into her on the Howard Frankland Bridge. She's alive and grateful.

A wrong-way driver slammed into her on the Howard Frankland Bridge. She's alive and grateful.

Andrea Rusch, a 24-year-old bartender at Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill in St. Petersburg, has undergone three surgeries but is expected to be discharged from St. Joseph's Hospital this week.
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Port Tampa Bay raises CEO Paul Anderson's salary 4.5 percent to $436,720

Port Tampa Bay raises CEO Paul Anderson's salary 4.5 percent to $436,720

Tuesday's vote to give Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson a 4.5 percent raise was unanimous. The vote to extend his contract two years? Not so much.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Iowa man, 58, arrested in fatal wrong-way crash into Pinellas bus

Iowa man, 58, arrested in fatal wrong-way crash into Pinellas bus

A man was fatally injured Monday while loading his bike onto the front of a bus on Gulf Boulevard. The wrong-way driver was impaired, deputies say.
Updated: 2 hours ago
What you need to know about new Bucs kicker Cairo Santos

What you need to know about new Bucs kicker Cairo Santos

The Buccaneers signed Cairo Santos on Monday after cutting Chandler Catanzaro.
Updated: 2 hours ago

Dr. Delay: is anything happening with 40th Avenue bridge?

It will likely be several years before a new bridge is completed, according to the city.
Updated: 2 hours ago
Seminole Chamber president to retire

Seminole Chamber president to retire

Roger Edelman, who has been president for six years, will stay through the end of the year. He will remain on the city Council.
Updated: 2 hours ago
FHP: Daytona Beach man killed crossing St. Petersburg street

FHP: Daytona Beach man killed crossing St. Petersburg street

The 59-year-old pedestrian walked into the path of an oncoming car, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Updated: 2 hours ago
Argument over dog led to fatal shooting of father, man says in 911 call

Argument over dog led to fatal shooting of father, man says in 911 call

A Tarpon Springs man is in custody after he told 911 operators he shot his father early Tuesday morning.
Updated: 3 hours ago