Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

As Isaac trends west, RNC plans proceed

With the projected path of Tropical Storm Isaac trending to the west, officials sounded increasingly confident Thursday that the storm wouldn't disrupt the Republican National Convention.

Speaking to Mitt Romney, due in Tampa next week to accept his party's nomination for president, Gov. Rick Scott assured the candidate that the state knows how to respond to hurricanes.

"I'll continue to keep the RNC and Gov. Romney informed," he said at a briefing Thursday evening in Tallahassee.

The RNC will have the final decision about whether to change its plans, but Scott said "it's way too early" to have that conversation.

"If you look at the projected path, it looks like we'll have some rain and some wind," Scott said. "Really, the time to have a discussion about this is after it leaves Cuba. But right now, it's full-speed ahead. We're going to have a great convention. We're looking forward to the delegates coming. We're going to keep them safe."

Earlier in the day, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus likewise said, "we're going to have a convention," but declined to say whether it could be shortened or moved.

"We have contingency plans should we need them," he said. "We just wait and see what we'll have to do."

Scott activated Florida's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday and convened a twice daily conference call with up to 200 local, state, federal and convention officials on the line.

"The goal is to make sure everyone has the best information available," Scott said. Fortunately, he said, local, state and federal officials have worked on plans for the RNC for 18 months, and hurricane planning has been part of the process.

While Tampa has hurricane plans ready, Mayor Bob Buckhorn doubted they would be needed, "based on the track as we know it now."

"I think this convention's going to go off just fine," he said.

Meanwhile, delegates seemed anything but panicked.

A few canceled reservations at the Sirata Beach Resort & Conference Center on St. Pete Beach, but more called to ask if they could arrive early, to beat any flights changed because of Isaac.

"Every time I lose one, we gain one," Sirata marketing manager Cricket Wagner said.

The hotel might move a beach party from Monday to Thursday, but is not taking extra precautions. It has brought in extra generators for outdoor tents and sound equipment and could use them if the weather turns foul. It also had a semitrailer truck full of food delivered already.

In Pinellas County, plans already address taking care of tourists in a hurricane.

"The RNC doesn't change that much," Pinellas County emergency management spokesman Tom Iovino said.

In Tampa, delegates said they hadn't been told what plans were in place if Isaac hit Tampa.

During private regional breakfasts with party members, Priebus did say raincoats and ponchos will be made available to delegates, said Jody Dow, a national committeewoman from Massachusetts.

As for food and water, "we're in a hotel, so we're all right," said Dow, staying at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.

"I'm not worried; you all are used to handling these things," said Donna Lou Gosney, a West Virginia national committeewoman staying at the Sheraton at Tampa International Airport. "I trust you all will be able to protect us from something like this."

• • •

Yes, we will, said Hillsborough County's law enforcement officials, who were watching the forecast but said they were not concerned.

Police said they were focused on wrapping up training and making final preparations. They had no plans to take down the fences set up in downtown if the storm turns this way.

"These fences are heavy, and they're all connected," Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said, noting it would take an extremely strong wind to knock them down.

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee acknowledged that, hypothetically, the storm could force a change in plans, but the important thing is to stay fluid.

Castor said she still expects officers from across the state to come to Tampa to help with RNC security. About 60 agencies have agreed to send officers. Castor said Tampa asked for "surplus" personnel whose absence would not create a strain.

Thus Broward County is sending deputies, but the Miami Police Department never planned to send anyone, Castor said, so officials there could help deal with a storm that hit South Florida.

"I told them, 'Just give us what you can spare,' " Castor said. As of Thursday, four detention deputies from Monroe County no longer planned to come help transport inmates, but no law enforcement officers had canceled.

If the situation on the ground did change, Scott said the state could quickly increase its deployment of 1,750 Florida National Guard troops already being activated to help with the RNC.

Additional reservists could go either to the convention or to another community hit by a storm, Scott said.

• • •

In St. Petersburg, plans for Sunday night's official RNC welcome party at Tropicana Field were "on schedule, full-speed ahead," Tampa Bay Host Committee president Ken Jones said.

"We have planned for rain, obviously, given that it is Florida and it is August," he said. "We may increase our tenting to keep people dry."

The host committee's production company, Corporate Magic of Dallas, has experience with big events, so Jones said setting up the party in the 20 hours between the end of the Tampa Bay Rays' home game Saturday and the start of it shouldn't be a problem, even in the rain.

Organizers would make any decisions about changes in consultation with the convention, the city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Already, that group has talked informally.

"We're praying to the weather gods," Jones said.

Times staff writers Richard Danielson, Anna Phillips and Kameel Stanley and Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.

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