Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Hurricane evacuation becomes easier with a plan

For the Tampa Bay area, the year 2013 brought another quiet hurricane season.

Andrea, the only tropical storm to affect Florida, produced rainfall and gusty winds along Florida's west coast, including Hernando County, but no widespread damage.

While most of us welcome slow hurricane seasons, they pose a dilemma for emergency management officials.

Will the lack of any large-scale evacuations since 2004 make the public less aware, or less ready, if an evacuation is ordered?

Just because an evacuation hasn't occurred in years "doesn't mean it's not going to happen today," said Pasco emergency management director Annette Doying.

Doying, as well as emergency officials in Pinellas, Hernando and Hillsborough, are urging residents to plan ahead in case of a large-scale evacuation.

The first step: Know your evacuation zone. Residents also should decide where they will go, which might include staying with family or reserving a hotel room, officials said.

Going to a shelter should be a last resort.

"We're talking about sleeping on the floor," said Tom Iovino, Pinellas emergency management spokesman. "There's very little privacy in those areas."

The second step: Listen to evacuation orders.

"Heed what we say," said Hillsborough emergency management director Preston Cook. "Apathy is the biggest problem that we have."

Evacuations also present distinct challenges for each county.

In Hillsborough, it's traffic.

"We have heavy traffic conditions on a good day," Cook said. The likelihood of Pinellas residents driving into Hillsborough is another factor officials must take into account when planning an evacuation order.

In Hernando, the ongoing construction on State Road 50 is emergency management director Cecilia Patella's "main challenge" this year.

Evacuating thousands of residents out of Pinellas, the most densely populated county in the state, also could pose traffic challenges. Hotels along the beach will begin evacuating when a hurricane watch goes into effect, Iovino said.

And in Pasco County, a "significant amount" of residents live within the evacuation zones, Doying said.

To diminish traffic during a large-scale evacuation, Pasco officials are looking at several tactics, including adjusting the timing on traffic signals and making a turn lane along U.S. 19 into another traffic lane.

Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157. Follow @lauracmorel on Twitter.

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