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Guy Daines, Pinellas County's 'godfather of emergency management' for hurricanes, dies

Guy Daines completed a 20-year career in the Army.
Guy Daines completed a 20-year career in the Army.
Published Apr. 29, 2015

TARPON SPRINGS — In the nearly 30 years since Hurricane Elena traumatized Pinellas County over a Labor Day weekend, no storm has hit this area harder.

As Elena parked, nearly motionless, some 80 miles in the Gulf of Mexico off west-central Florida, a small but dedicated team worked virtually nonstop. In a makeshift office in the mail room of the Clearwater courthouse, the Emergency Operations Center oversaw the evacuation of more than 300,000 residents, including patients in three hospitals and 19 nursing homes.

At the center of the response stood Guy Daines, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and the center's director, who orchestrated what was then the largest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history. Mr. Daines would become a national leader in hurricane preparedness, co-founding the Governor's Hurricane Conference, the largest event of its kind in the country.

Mr. Daines died April 17, the result of skin cancer of the neck and head, his family said. He was 78.

"He was a mentor for me," said Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker, a former emergency operations officer in Miami-Dade County during Hurricane Andrew and a former director of Pasco County's Office of Emergency Management. "I was a young woman in the emergency management business. He was a good explainer. He loved to explain and he liked to teach."

Sally Bishop, the director of Pinellas County's Emergency Management Department, also regards Mr. Daines as a mentor since he hired her out of college in 1986.

"He was the godfather of emergency management in Pinellas County," said Baker, "but I would also say on a much broader scale.

It was Mr. Daines who took the reins of what was then the county's Civil Emergencies Service in 1979, the same year FEMA was founded and the country was rethinking its likeliest threats.

"A lot of what had been done was nuclear protection planning," said Bishop. "We were still in the dregs of the Cold War and the planning that was being done on a national scale was, 'Hey, the Russians are going to come and we have to run into fallout shelters.' "

Mr. Daines started strong in the post, reminding residents of the 1921 hurricane that wiped out Pass-a-Grille and Category 5 Hurricane Camille of 1969.

"There is no 'if,' " Mr. Daines told Indian Rocks Beach locals in 1981. "The question is how severe we will be hit — and when."

But nothing changed the landscape like Elena, a storm that never made landfall in Florida but still pushed tides to 6 feet above normal on the beaches and 7 feet above normal in Tampa Bay.

Lynn Daines, who met Mr. Daines while working as a director of disaster services with the American Red Cross and later married him, described Mr. Daines' demeanor during Elena as "total control mode."

"In every area of his life, the man was always in total control," she said. "He was the most disciplined person I have ever known."

Guy Edwin Daines was born in Dayton, Ky.. He entered the Army as a second lieutenant in 1958, upon graduating from Eastern Kentucky University.

His career in the Army lasted 20 years, including tours in Korea, Japan and Vietnam. In Vietnam, he advised South Vietnamese troops in combat situations. His exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange led to subsequent respiratory problems, including the removal of part of a lung, his wife said.

Mr. Daines spent the last five years of his military career training groups within the Kentucky and the Ohio National Guard. By the time he retired in 1978 as a lieutenant colonel, Mr. Daines had earned a Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit and more than a dozen other awards. He would remain close to the 17th Infantry, with which he began his service, for the rest of his life.

In the meantime, a marriage to Penny Ebert lasted around 20 years and produced two children.

Retirement to Tarpon Springs did include a little hunting and boating. But mostly it was about hurricanes, and using organizational skills learned in the military to save lives.

Despite the achievement in evacuating the infirm during Elena, the storm also revealed weaknesses. More than twice as many people went to shelters than expected, resulting in overcrowding and strained food supplies. Parents showed up without diapers, formula or baby food. Many people had left their medications at home — or, equally concerning, their pets.

Along with Baker and others, Mr. Daines started the Governor's Hurricane Conference in 1986, largely to keep alive the lessons of Elena.

"The biggest thing we learned was that we were not prepared to handle people with special needs," said Lynn Daines, who married Mr. Daines in 1996 and now serves as executive vice president of the Governor's Hurricane Conference.

Mr. Daines later worked as Pinellas County's director of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, retiring in 1998. He would reap numerous honors for his professional and volunteer work, including the Neil Frank Award, the highest recognition by the National Hurricane Conference.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.