WEEKI WACHEE — Emergency management personnel think it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for Hernando County to experience a brush with tropical weather this hurricane season.
It might jolt residents out of a preparedness complacency that officials say has grown for some seven years.
Not since 2004 has the area suffered any hurricane damage, said county emergency management director Cecilia Patella. That year, Hurricane Charley and tropical storms Frances and Jeanne lashed through Florida and buffeted Hernando.
So, with the six-month hurricane season having begun Friday, emergency management officials will emphasize readiness as they stage their annual Hurricane and Safety Expo today at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
The expo runs 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and includes demonstrations, activities, meteorologists' insights and informative materials.
"This year, two things are new we want to feature," Patella said, "a hurricane simulator and a panel of meteorologists."
The simulator will produce winds up to 75 mph in a confined space that can accommodate more than one person at a time, though there will be some weight and height restrictions, Patella noted.
The panel of meteorologists will present a question-and-answer session and will be on hand to talk with visitors. Scheduled are WFLA-Ch. 8's Steve Jerve; Bay News 9's Brian McClure; WTSP-Ch. 10's Bobby Deskins; WTVT-Ch. 13's Paul Dellegatto; and the National Weather Service's Mike Gittinger.
Also, a rollover simulator will be in action. For safety reasons, onlookers will not be able to get into the vehicle. But you'll be able to watch, Patella said.
Addressing another growing safety and security concern, she said, Hernando County Sheriff's Office detective Sgt. Jeff Kraft will speak about cyber security and identity theft.
The Sheriff's Office is currently engaged in a pilot project with the Internal Revenue Service to pursue identity theft cases in Hernando.
For kids, there will be special activities organized by the American Red Cross. Among them, they will build a house of aluminum foil against which to test storms, hear age-appropriate advice about weather preparedness and pick up booklets that outline specific chores youngsters can perform in advance of weather events.
Vendors will provide information about hurricane-resistant overhead doors, shutters and windows; restoration services; emergency supplies such as flashlights, batteries and radios; tie-downs; tree-trimming services; and roofing repairs.
Emergency services will be represented by fire departments, hospitals and county departments, including a display of new flood maps and the evacuation routes that were unveiled in February.
The Walmart distribution center in Ridge Manor West is donating two generators, valued at more than $500 each, as door prizes.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park will also stage three free mermaid shows and free wildlife programs for expo visitors.
Last year, the expo attracted approximately 1,500 visitors, Patella said.
"We're hoping for a beautiful day Saturday," she said.
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]