Saturday, April 21, 2018
Public safety

Tropical Storm Debby shows Hernando emergency operation center has a lot work to do

They have a heck of an Emergency Operations Center over at the Hernando Sheriff's Office in Brooksville.

The thick concrete walls are hurricane-proof, obviously, and look darn near bomb-proof.

At the annual media tour of the place, timed with the beginning of hurricane season, reporters hear how we'll be posted on every tiny fluctuation of wind, tide, rain and delivery of public services because, by gosh, we're the Sheriff's Office's partners in keeping the public informed.

And we get to see all of the features and gizmos designed to make this happen: Internet access, briefing rooms, enough wide-screen television screens to outfit a Beef 'O' Brady's.

We leave this 5-year-old, $6-million bunker/nerve center every year feeling sure the county is set to handle any disaster short of a UFO landing.

And then Debby comes along, the worst storm in several years.

The folks at the EOC do not invite the media to those well-equipped briefing rooms; they don't treat us like partners; they don't give us or anyone else in the county timely updates on even very major fluctuations such as the flood-related closing of the Suncoast Parkway.

True, Debby has been a damaging storm, but not an especially dangerous one. It probably didn't warrant the highest level of alert.

Even so, the lack of communication was stunning.

Though the storm has been raging since Saturday night, residents clicking on the county's Emergency Management website — hernandosheriff.org/em — Sunday and Monday were greeted by a blank screen and an invitation to return for "all of the latest information ... in the event of an emergency."

Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Michael Burzumato sent out his first real media alert on Monday morning, mostly a list of road closures that, as anyone who had been driving around the county at the time could tell you, was pitifully incomplete.

There was not a single word about shelters, evacuations or sandbags.

It wasn't until late Monday that Burzumato and the county's spokeswoman, Brenda Frazier, seemed to be working on the same page and not until 5 p.m. that Burzumato issued a media alert that included information about evacuations (none), shelters, sandbag distribution points and the kind of warnings about downed power lines and standing water that typically go out before storms even arrive.

And it wasn't until Tuesday morning, after a computer glitch was fixed, that updates began appearing on the Emergency Management website.

Luckily, Debby was benign enough that we can look at it as a very soggy dry run.

So what needs to change?

Media alerts should be more timely and complete, and, obviously, Emergency Management needs to make sure all of the issues with its website are resolved.

The county needs to designate either that site or a Facebook page as the definitive destination for storm information.

The Sheriff's Office, which runs Emergency Management, has to set up better lines of communications with Transportation Services and other relevant county departments, as well as agencies such as the American Red Cross.

Frazier and Burzumato need to decide who will be the go-to information source for reporters, and tell us before the next storm starts.

And most of all, Emergency Management director Cecilia Patella can't disappear from public view.

For years, it was standard practice for people in her job — the people who know most about any emergency — to tell the public about it directly.

Of course she's busy. But she could invite reporters from all media outlets to her state-of-the-art EOC for twice-a-day briefings.

Because getting the word out to the public is one of her most important jobs — and ours, her partners.

Comments
Man with multiple gun arrests now accused of fatally shooting Durant High football player

Man with multiple gun arrests now accused of fatally shooting Durant High football player

The first time deputies arrested Samuel Morrissey Jr., he faced charges of possession of marijuana and carrying a concealed firearm. He plead no contest in September, and the judge gave him a break by withholding adjudication. Ten days later, the 20-...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Woman dies in single-car crash on SR 580

Woman dies in single-car crash on SR 580

A 49-year-old woman died early Saturday in a single-car crash on State Road 580.The vehicle was driving in the eastbound lanes of SR 580 when it failed to round a curve and veered off the road near Charles Avenue, a Clearwater Police Department state...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Deputies arrested a man they said tackled a woman in February and removed her shorts before fleeing.Robert Mark Hembree Jr., 31, was arrested late Friday. He faces charges of sexual battery and petit theft.PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Detectives seek man who a...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

A Pasco County man was struck and killed in an apparent hit-and-run early Saturday, police said.Thomas Michael Burdeshaw, 53, who lived on Sundance Drive in Dade City, was hit about 1:45 a.m. on the 36000 block of Blanton Road, police said.Witnesses ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Police searching for person who shot a man to death in Largo

Police searching for person who shot a man to death in Largo

CLEARWATER ó Police are looking for a person who shot and killed a man late Friday at the Melrose on the Bay apartments on Bolesta Road. Ricardo Guzman, 32, called 911 just before midnight and told the operator he had been shot, said Lt. Randall Chan...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Motorcyclist dies after crash on Memorial Highway

Motorcyclist dies after crash on Memorial Highway

TAMPA ó A motorcyclist driving north on Memorial Highway died after he crashed into a guard rail late Friday, police said."The man failed to negotiate a curve in the road and struck a guard rail," said Lt. Brett Owen. "No other vehicle was involved i...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Cops used dead manís finger in attempt to access his phone. Itís legal, but is it okay?

Cops used dead manís finger in attempt to access his phone. Itís legal, but is it okay?

LARGO ó Most people agree what the Largo detectives did at the funeral home was legal.What they diverge on is whether it was appropriate."I just felt so disrespected and violated," said Victoria Armstrong, whose fiance, Linus F. Phillip, was shot and...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

TAMPA ó Deputies are searching for a woman accused of blocking a special needs school bus with her car, getting out and banging and kicking on the bus door until she broke the glass.And there were four children inside, deputies said, as she shouted a...
Published: 04/20/18
St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

ST. PETERSBURG ó Officers are searching for a 20-year-old woman who they believe to be missing and who could be in danger.Kayla Brandi Boone was last seen at about 11 p.m. Thursday in the 2700 block of Fourth Street S, according to St. Petersburg pol...
Published: 04/20/18

Deputies: 19-month-old child found in New Port Richey pond has died

NEW PORT RICHEY ó The 19-month-old child that was found in a pond on Thursday afternoon has died, according to the Pasco County Sheriffís Office.The incident took place at about 12:31 p.m. Deputies and firefighters were called out to a home in the 47...
Published: 04/20/18