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Countywide Red Cross plan sought

American Red Cross officials are putting together a report on disaster preparedness in Pinellas County calling for one person to coordinate help in the event of a hurricane, officials said Wednesday.

Until now, the two chapters of the Red Cross in the county _ one for north of Ulmerton Road and a second, based in Tampa, for southern Pinellas _ have each had a disaster plan coordinator.

That division prompted St. Petersburg Fire Chief Jerry Knight to ask the City Council to look into the matter several weeks ago.

He has called for a single Pinellas County Red Cross chapter.

In a letter to the council in May, Knight wrote, "Central control and coordination is essential if St. Petersburg and Pinellas County are to be successful in dealing with a Hurricane Andrew in this area."

National Red Cross officials have sent an evaluation team to the area to look at disaster coordination, said Violeta Murgado, chapter manager for the Tampa Bay Suncoast Chapter.

"The national is looking at having one disaster plan and one contact," Murgado said. "We expect a report by the end of the week."

Murgado said she did not know what else might appear in the report.

"That's definitely a step in the right direction," Knight said Wednesday of the single coordinator. "Without seeing the report, I would definitely say that is a step toward solving the problem."

National officials who worked on the report were in Miami for a Hurricane Andrew conference and could not be reached, said Dave Guirot, a spokesman for the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C.

But local Red Cross officials disagree, saying that the two chapters can easily work together and handle any disaster in Pinellas.

In 1988, the southern Pinellas Red Cross chapter merged with the Tampa Bay Suncoast Chapter. The chapter has an office in St. Petersburg and a branch manager.

"Service delivery in St. Petersburg has not been hindered at all by belonging to the Tampa Bay Suncoast Chapter," Murgado said. "When we had the tornadoes (last fall), we worked together to offer the same service delivery."

Red Cross officials also have argued that a hurricane would be a region-wide disaster and cross-county boundaries requiring coordination among many chapters.

Knight had asked the council in late May to endorse the creation of a single Red Cross chapter in Pinellas County. But he withdrew his request after national Red Cross officials agreed to look at countywide coordination.

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