From the Desk of Pinellas County's Emergency Management Director Sally Bishop
When last we left...
Don’t you just love cliffhangers? Most TV shows will sign off, right in the middle of the action, to encourage you to tune in for the next episode. We had a similar cliffhanger as Hurricane Season 2012 drew to a close.
After the last edition of the E-Lert was sent, Hurricane Sandy thundered ashore just south of Atlantic City, New Jersey. This large storm brought tremendous destruction to the Jersey Shore and New York City – becoming the second most destructive hurricane the United States has seen, behind only 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
Shortly after that, New York City put out a call for help, and the Central Florida area – including Pinellas County – responded. During their time up in the city’s logistics headquarters, they saw the destruction and watched the enormous response and recovery effort. Our public information officer kept a blog documenting each of the days of the response. Visit pinellasem.tumblr.com to read this important record of what they saw and the lessons they learned.
Most importantly, each of us needs to take away the most valuable lesson of the entire Hurricane Sandy experience – even though the storm’s winds were ‘only’ Category 1 at landfall, the storm brought a tremendous impact to the affected area. This year, should you hear about the approach of a storm of any intensity, be sure to treat it with the respect it deserves and respond accordingly. You may not get a second chance to take those steps once the storm begins in earnest.
Survivor or victim: The choice rests with you.
A hurricane can bring tremendous devastation to homes, businesses, apartments, cars and many other structures. When this damage occurs, residents depend on insurance to help bring them back to normal. The problem is that many learn they have purchased insufficient coverage or failed to get the right kind of policies after the damage is done and when they need protection the most.
That’s why hurricane pre-season is the perfect time to review insurance policies to ensure coverage is both adequate and comprehensive. Some very important points to consider include:
Read that policy. Sure, an insurance policy isn’t a real page turner, but giving it a brief review will reveal terms, as well as raise questions about coverage gaps to be discussed with an insurance agent. Start on the declaration page. That’s where your name and address are and usually the limits covered. If you read nothing else after that, read the exclusions! And watch for any special endorsement that excludes wind coverage. Ask your agent to explain any questions you have.
Soak up flood insurance. Since 1968, most homeowner’s or renter’s policies have not covered damage from flooding. That coverage is provided under the purview of the National Flood Insurance Program at www.floodsmart.gov. Besides protecting from the obvious damage of rising drainage creeks, it also protects against storm surge. Another coverage is sewer backup from a flood. Your homeowner policy, even if it covers sewer backup, will most likely have an exclusion if the sewer backup is caused by flooding. Remember, all flood policies require 30 days from when they are ordered until they are in effect, which means buying flood insurance at the last minute won’t work. If you are located in a Flood Hazard Area, you may need to get a “flood elevation certificate” which could take some time. If you are not, there is still the application process which will take time. You may be surprised by how inexpensive flood insurance is, especially if you are not in a Flood Hazard Area!
Wind is special. Hurricane – or windstorm – deductibles are not like the standard deductible on your policy. While there may be a smaller deductible for a fire or burglary loss, windstorm deductibles are typically a percentage of your home’s value. This is done to help keep premiums low, but can add up to an expensive surprise when the time comes. A five percent deductible on a house valued at $200,000 can leave policy owners on the hook for the first $10,000 of repairs.
Getting to code. After a hurricane, if a home is damaged beyond a certain amount, the new structure will need to be rebuilt to current Florida building codes. While this may not be a problem for a home built after 2001, it could be a considerable expense for a home built before that year. Law and ordinance coverage helps bring even older homes up to current code should significant damage occur.
Cars need comprehensive. Basic auto coverage is required on all vehicles operated in the state of Florida. While these policies offer minimal coverage for auto accidents, other hazards such as flooding, wind damage and the like are covered under a comprehensive auto insurance policy.
Renters need coverage, too. A landlord or property owner will have insurance on the structure that is being rented, but renters need coverage as well to protect their personal belongings. As with regular homeowner’s policies, most renters insurance coverage does not cover flooding, so a separate flood insurance policy can make a difference in how quickly you can replace your possessions.
Inventories are invaluable. While most homeowners can recall from memory the larger items in their homes, would they be able to catalog every item down to the smallest details? A quick home inventory done on a list or through photos or video can help tremendously after the disaster. A video or pictures on your tablet computer or smart phone will only take minutes. Capture what is on the walls, the fixtures and type of flooring as well as your personal property. Also check with your agent to see if your insurance carrier offers “replacement cost” coverage on your contents. Otherwise, your structure may be covered to be rebuilt, but your contents may be depreciated by the insurance carrier.
While insurance can replace items after the fact, it is not a substitute for taking steps to reduce a home’s vulnerability to a hurricane’s fury. Bracing garage doors, shuttering windows and stowing yard items before a storm’s winds are felt can mean the difference between minor damage and a total disaster. Also, your homeowner insurance can’t protect people from injury due to flying debris.
Discuss with your agent the most effective way to present a claim, should a disaster strike. If many homes are damaged, know how your carrier will find your home. If you must evacuate, take your insurance policy with you. Have the claims office’s phone number and your agents emergency contact information with you.
Most importantly, your home and valuables are only possessions. Your first priority is always to keep yourself and your family safe. Everything else can be replaced. You can’t.
Horse owners need to have preparations for their animals in place well in advance of the arrival of a storm. This pre-planning is especially important, as Pinellas County does not provide any public areas to leave horses during evacuations. Horse owners need to make arrangements to shelter their horses or to provide sufficient open pasture land during a hurricane’s impact.
To help get horse owners started, the Sunshine State Horse Council has an informative web page that provides guidance on how to prepare your horse to weather the storm. Visit www.floridahorse.com/hurricane/hurricane.html.
Pinellas County no longer offers sandbags to residents of unincorporated areas of the county during hurricane season.
The county was forced to reevaluate the effectiveness of the sandbags after flooding in 2004 – the record-breaking year when four hurricanes hit the Florida peninsula. Now, officials urge residents not to rely on sandbags to save their homes from flooding.
A quick Internet search will show a great number of companies that manufacture systems to help reduce or eliminate flooding. One of the options is a type of sandbag made of absorbent materials that rehydrate when exposed to water, water-filled barriers or physical barriers mounted to the home’s structure. Consumers are advised to check several sources, get customer reviews and check the license of any contractor installing a system at their home.
Individual cities in the county may offer sandbag sites. Residents should check with their municipality for exactly what is offered, the latest information and updates.
Getting your yard ready to weather the storm can help keep you and your home safe. High winds can turn even the heaviest items into deadly projectiles that can break through your windows, doors and even walls. To prepare:
- Properly prune trees and shrubs well before any storms threaten. Do not leave piles of branches that can become missiles in high winds.
- Keep your gutters and down spouts clear and in good repair.
- Replace rock mulch with shredded bark.
- When a hurricane warning is issued, bring in all yard items such as furniture, toys, bird baths/feeders and barbecue grills.
Visit hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/documents/FR176.pdf to see the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Safety’s guide on trees in hurricane prone communities.
Tropical Storm Debby – June 23 – 27, 2012
“It’s just a tropical storm. What is there to worry about?” If we had a dollar for every time we heard this from unconcerned residents ... well, we’d have a lot of dollars!
Tropical storms, with winds from 39 to 74 mph, can cause tremendous damage from flooding, heavy rains and tornadoes when they make landfall. Last year’s Tropical Storm Debby was no exception.
Forming from a low pressure system that meandered over the Yucatan peninsula, the storm found favorable condition in the central Gulf of Mexico. On June 23, the National Hurricane Center indicated that the storm had enough tropical characteristics to get the name Debby. This became the earliest forming “D” letter storm in the Atlantic, beating out 2005’s Hurricane Dennis, which formed July 5 that year.
Initially forecast to move west toward the Texas/Louisiana border, steering currents kept pushing it closer to Florida’s west coast. While the storm never brought hurricane force winds, the persistent onshore winds drove waves well onto the beaches, overwashing dunes and taking a great deal of sand out to sea. Roadways in lower-lying areas were flooded. A tornado formed and ripped into Pass-A-Grille, doing damage to homes and other structures in the area.
As with other slow-moving tropical systems, Debby dumped a tremendous amount of rain, with nearly 29 inches falling in Curtis Mill, Florida. Local rainfall totals exceeded 13 inches.
Most inconveniently, the winds from the storm closed down the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for three days, and necessitated additional bridge closures as waves crashed over the roadways.
The damage was significant enough to warrant a presidential state of disaster to be declared in the county.
The most important lesson from Tropical Storm Debby was that tropical storms can do a significant amount of damage, and that it’s never too early in the season to see storm formation.
For more information on Tropical Storm Debby, visit the Wikipedia entry at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Storm_Debby_%282012%29.
When it comes to the English language, there are some words that – at first – seem to mean the same thing. In reality, though, they have completely different meanings. Imply vs. infer. Insure or ensure. Climate and weather.
That last pair frequently trips people up when they discuss our environment. It is easy to use one word when describing the other phenomena. So, to help keep things straight, here are the quick definitions according to Webster’s Dictionary:
Weather is defined as the state of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness.
On the other hand, climate is defined as the average course or condition of the weather at a place usually over a period of years as exhibited by temperature, wind velocity, and precipitation.
As you can see, weather is related to the short-term conditions in a certain area. Climate is based on a sampling of tens, hundreds or even thousands of years of evidence (tree rings, ice cores in the Arctic, etc) Another, easier to remember definition is that climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.
To put this into a real world setting, the climate of Tampa Bay is considered subtropical with hot, humid summers, frequently affected by thunderstorms. However, on any given day, the temperature could be cooler if a cold front managed to make it to the Gulf coast, or it may be dry if weather conditions aren’t conducive to thunderstorm formation.