Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando storm drill reveals computer problems

BROOKSVILLE — With powerful Category 3 Hurricane Herb barrelling down on the west coast of Florida on Wednesday afternoon, Hernando County's emergency managers were in deep trouble.

Before they could begin to defend against Herb's 125-mph winds and the 14-foot storm surge heading for the coast, they had a more immediate problem to solve: How to log into their computer program.

Good thing it was only a drill, albeit a serious statewide exercise of counties' ability to deal with a disaster.

It took so long to access the locally created software that Hernando County emergency management officials never got to practice much of the leadup, shelter opening and evacuation exercises that the annual hurricane drill is designed to test.

On Thursday, County Administrator David Hamilton was not pleased.

"I got a little concerned yesterday,'' he said, adding that he will meet next week with county emergency management officials "to be reassured that we're ready'' for real emergencies, especially as the hurricane season gets under way.

Hamilton arrived at the drill a bit late on Wednesday and was surprised to learn of the computer problems. He said he has seen similar drills run smoothly, but the exercise "didn't go all that well.''

He will meet with interim emergency management director Mark Tobert and Cecilia Patella, hazard mitigation coordinator, for what he termed a frank discussion about the county's readiness.

"It could have gone better,'' Tobert admitted Thursday of the exercise.

The problem with the computer software was multifaceted, he said. It was designed by former manager Tom Leto, who was fired last month, and another former employee. The software had not been loaded onto the main computer in the room at the Emergency Operations Center where all the agencies gather to manage a storm response.

The current emergency management staff has had little practice with the software system, which has never been tested in an emergency, and neither have many of the representatives from other agencies. The staffs made a list of issues they have with the software and Tobert said he has contacted the county's information technology specialists to make improvements.

In addition, he will ask Hamilton during upcoming budget discussions to purchase one of the two emergency management software packages used by counties around Florida. That would give Hernando a "battle tested'' system that can communicate with other counties.

Tobert said the officials gathered for the drill were able to run through several scenarios of the aftermath of a dangerous storm.

His staff would contact various agency representatives in the EOC and give them a problem to solve, such as asking Animal Services to deal with a pack of wild coyotes terrorizing a neighborhood or asking the fire department to battle a fire at the Bayport Inn when all roads leading there were flooded.

He also said his people are ready to deal with the real thing even if it meant resorting to pre-computer methods of gathering data and delivering critical information. "It's not something that would inhibit our ability to take care of the public,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Hamilton and Sheriff Richard Nugent are exploring transferring emergency management functions from the county to the sheriff. Hamilton said Thursday, however, that it might be too much to expect such a switch to be done during the hurricane season.

He said that the county "has some things to tweak'' before handing over the operation, if that is ultimately the County Commission's decision. "The public is not going to care'' who is in charge as long as they are protected in a disaster, Hamilton said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando storm drill reveals computer problems 06/05/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2008 3:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa


    Somewhere beyond the barricades and mountainous LED stages of the Sunset Music Festival, there had to be worry. There had to thousands of parents in parking lots and empty kitchens, anxiously distracting their minds, every now and then checking their phones.

    Major Lazer headlined the Sunset Music Festival on May 27, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
  2. 24-year-old man charged with murder in shooting at Andrea Cove Motel

    LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's officers arrested a 24-year-old transient man Saturday in connection with a homicide at the Andrea Cove Motel in unincorporated Largo.

  3. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title


    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  4. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.

  5. IT failure blamed for British Airways cancellations (w/video)


    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy U.K. holiday weekend.

    Passengers wait at a British Airways check-in desk after the airport suffered an IT systems failure Saturday at London''s Gatwick Airport. [Associated Press]