December 2017

Important phone numbers and websites

Pinellas County Emergency Management: (727) 464-3800 | www.pinellascounty.org/emergency

Find your evacuation level: (727) 453-3150 | www.pinellascounty.org/knowyourzone

Special Needs Registration: (727) 464-3800 | www.pinellascounty.org/forms/evac-assist.htm

Follow Pinellas County Emergency Management on Twitter | twitter.com/PinellasEM

Download the new Ready Pinellas app | www.pinellascounty.org/readypinellas

Sign up for Pinellas County's Emergency Notification Service Alert Pinellas | www.pinellascounty.org/alertpinellas

Set your Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) equipped all-hazards alert radio for Pinellas County: Enter code 012103

If you know someone who would like to receive the e-Lert newsletter, have them visit www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/subscribe.htm

 

Sally Says

Sally Bishop photoFrom the Desk of Pinellas County's Emergency Management Director

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season is Over!

As of Nov. 30, it is the end of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season. I say this with relief, but also with sorrow at the pain and suffering that many people experienced – and are still experiencing - due to the effects of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Within six weeks, a hurricane trifecta showed us all too well the importance of planning and preparing. This season showed us that we all have a responsibility in surviving a storm and continues to teach us lessons about the long road to recovery.

Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey was our first taste of this horrific season, making landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, dumping record amounts of rainfall before taking another hit at Louisiana. We watched as Houston suffered what was being called one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history. The images of destruction seem to have taught our citizens to take the threat of a hurricane very seriously. But still, the hurricane hit somewhere else. Not here.

Then Irma appeared on our horizon.

Emergencu Operations Center

Hurricane Irma

We watched Hurricane Irma, a massive storm that set its sights for the Florida Peninsula, ready to swallow up the Florida Keys and head north. The Emergency Operations Center was fully activated, and emergency crews and first responders were on full alert.

As evacuations from the Keys, South Florida and other areas continued northward, we communicated with our citizens and advised them to set their plans in motion. If they planned to evacuate out of the area, the time to evacuate was before the roads became gridlocked.

It was at this point, when people had to put their plans into action, that we discovered many people in our county did not have plans at all. Thousands of people called our Citizens Information Center to ask about evacuating: when they should do it, and where they could go.

We directed them to the evacuation map lookup, because knowing your vulnerability is the very first step to planning what you will do in different situations. Many of our citizens did not know their zone. In fact, so many people visited the county’s Know Your Zone page that the app crashed. Our staff literally worked through the night to get it back up and running. 

Those who tried to leave the county at this time found that it was too late to avoid the traffic. Residents lined up at the stores to buy plywood. They stocked up on water, taking unreasonable amounts in some circumstances. And even though it is shown that sandbags are not effective for storm surge, sandbags were gobbled up, with the county distributing 445,400. That does not include the municipalities’ efforts.

There seemed to be a sense of panic in the community. No doubt those images of Harvey contributed, but that fear is easy to avoid by simply having a plan, and making some preparations to go with it. Without the guidance of a plan that was thought out ahead of time, people were indecisive and some people ended up staying at their home when they should have evacuated, simply because they were not able to make a decision. Residents only need to evacuate tens of miles, not hundreds. Often, the best evacuation route is a 15-minute drive to the home of family or friends.

The Citizens Information Center received more than 64,000 calls. Many of our calls were from citizens with special needs, specifically health-related conditions that are power-dependent for treatment. We had 2,377 special needs pre-registrations. Once evacuations were ordered, 2,723 new special needs residents were accepted.

Thankfully, Irma decided to take a shift to the east and sail right by our county. We only experienced strong tropical storm force winds with gusts to Category 1 hurricane strength, little rainfall and less than 3 feet of storm surge.

Even without Irma’s punch, we are still in recovery mode. As of Nov. 18, we had 375 individuals in transitional shelters because their homes are still uninhabitable. Workers have been working tirelessly to clear debris, and just recently completed collection from unincorporated areas. This experience certainly has a lot of lessons for all of us.

Unfortunately, Irma was not to be the last hurricane to wreak havoc this season.

Hurricane Maria

Next up was Hurricane Maria, bringing widespread damage to the Caribbean, and hitting the island of Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane. We are still watching the suffering of Puerto Rico, as officials struggle to find places for those still living in shelters and as rescue workers try to get food and water to those in need.

Many residents of Puerto Rico have chosen to travel to Florida, and we are seeing many families in our county. We are so fortunate to have caring and giving individuals at non-profit organizations and government agencies who are working to help Maria survivors now in Pinellas County. A list of available resources is available and information is being updated on our county website.

One of the most important things evacuees from Puerto Rico can do is to register with FEMA for disaster assistance. They may be eligible for temporary lodging through the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program. If they already registered in Puerto Rico, they need to contact FEMA and update their information, and check on the status of their application.

So what did we learn from the 2017 Hurricane Season?  That our plans are good and that the teamwork that exists between the county and our cities is the critical element that makes it work in this complicated 25-jurisdiction county. We also learned that our job is never done in trying to convince our citizens to develop real plans during sunny days for what they will do when we are faced with a hurricane.  There is a wealth of information available to assist you in the planning and decision-making process as you address the following:

  1. Am I signed up to receive emergency information?
  2. Do I know if I am in an evacuation zone?  If so, do I understand what that means in regards to storm surge and my home?  If I’m in a B-Level or higher evacuation zone I need to plan for both being able to stay at home, and being ordered to evacuate since both are possibilities.  If I’m in a non-evacuation zone what do I need to do to prepare my home to withstand the winds?
  3. Do I take critical medications that I need to stock up on, and do I know how to increase my supply during an emergency?
  4. Do I need to plan for kids and pets?
  5. What other special requirements do I have that I need to plan for?
  6. Do I need transportation assistance to evacuate?  Public buses will still be running, and assistance to evacuate from home is available but requires preregistration.

The information you need to answer these questions and others are available in our All-Hazards Preparedness Guide, online at www.pinellascounty.org/emergency, or in print at city halls, libraries, and county government offices.  Our Ready Pinellas mobile application can put a lot of the information at your fingertips. Our Storm Surge Protector application (on our website) can show you your evacuation level and how much storm surge could be experienced in your location at all the evacuation levels.

Happy Holidays

This will be the last e-Lert until the beginning of the next hurricane season June 1. We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and please consider donating the non-perishable foods (please check the expiration date) that you had as part of your hurricane kit to an organization for those who need a helping hand during the holidays.

Sally Bishop
Director, Pinellas County Emergency Management

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What Irma Taught Us (so far)

#1 - Hurricanes happen

No one likes to dwell on the bad things that could happen. All of us are optimistic at heart and let’s face it, we hate to do work today for something that might never happen. Telling people how important it is to prepare for all hazards is a constant struggle, partly because residents don’t believe it could happen here. Hurricane Harvey hit Texas hard, and that snapped everyone to attention once Irma began churning its way to us. Hopefully, our residents will hold onto this memory: Hurricanes do strike, they do strike Florida, and one will make landfall right here in Pinellas County.

#2 - Don’t get caught unaware

All people have to do is get plugged in to information. Pinellas County has an emergency alert service called Alert Pinellas, where anyone can sign up to receive local emergency news. There is the Ready Pinellas app with information about what to do and when to do it. There are social media, traditional media and many ways for people to keep track of what is going on during hurricane season. You just have to plug in.

#3 - Food goes bad

The loss of perishable food caught a lot a people by surprise. Many residents lost weeks-worth of food. Ice was at a premium, and those who had stored extra ice by freezing bags and jugs of water were able to make their food last longer, especially once the storm passed and they cooked it up. A lot of neighborhoods got together then and cooked together, sharing power for those who needed to charge cellphones. This was a simple and supportive solution.

#4 - Power is important

Parts of Pinellas County lost power for several days and beyond. We experienced first-hand what it is like when life slows down, almost to a halt, without power. When we don’t have power, we don’t have TV, cellphones, or electronic games. Without gas stoves, there is no way to cook food. Retailers can’t open to offer hardware, tools or everyday essentials.

Without air conditioning, more vulnerable populations were seriously affected by the heat. Power loss caused problems with communication. Daily living was difficult because of simple things like lack of hot water for showers. Personal challenges interfered with work. Food at the grocery stores was sparse. Even when the stores re-opened, the freezers stood empty as these companies struggled to restock. Restaurants without power didn’t have food.

We need to be much better prepared for the loss of power and our public information will continue to reinforce this.

#5 - Our service to you

Emergency Management, municipalities, social services, first responders and a host of community partners worked 24/7 prior to the hurricane’s arrival, during the storm, and for response and recovery. We have learned more about what this community needs from us during an emergency and we have learned from the feedback of our residents. As a government, we are currently taking a hard look at what worked and what didn’t work. We are having discussions with our community partners to improve our operations, because that is our responsibility.

#6 - Apps are good

We learned about many tools in the aftermath of the storm. Pinellas County Government doesn’t endorse the apps that are not “official,” but we find them extremely useful. Some of our favorites:

  • Ready Pinellas – preparation and response
  • Florida 511 – traffic and incident information
  • Gas Buddy – gas stations that have available fuel
  • RX Open – pharmacies that are open
  • Separate grocery stores have apps with updated information
  • Facebook’s Safety Check to let your friends know you are OK. Also check out Red Cross’ Safe and Well

Texting may work when cellular calls do not. Some other applications that don’t require cellular service to communicate include: Facebook Messenger, Google Duo, Viber, Fring, Skype, Zello and more.

If the Internet is working, the Emergency Accommodations System offers information on available hotels/motels statewide during emergencies. Go to visitflorida.com

Download a map onto your phone before you lose power in case you can’t get a GPS signal.

With the growing reliance on smartphones during disasters, backup batteries are key. Invest in a good one. Or two.

#7 - It’s everyone’s responsibility

We have been saying this for years: The government can only do so much and surviving a storm takes the entire community. When it comes to taking care of yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your pets, your business and your organizations, we need our citizens to take on that responsibility.

#8 - Neighbors helping neighbors

We will be hearing a lot more about this in the future. This summer’s disasters inspired community members to take extraordinary efforts to help their neighbors. Community organizations reached out to be a part of recovery efforts and joined with citizens and government agencies in a true united approach to disaster response. The caring nature of our community is what makes us strong and we can all benefit from building on this spirit for our future. Let us know if you would like to get involved.

#8 - There is more to come

We have yet to realize all that we learned during this hurricane season. It is our fervent hope that our citizens will take this as a lesson in preparedness, as we on the government level look to fortify plans. Together, we can plan to be safe and sound for when the Big One really does hit. We have the off-season to do this and do this together.

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Off-Season Improvements

Here are some basic home improvements you can make to ensure your home is storm ready by the summertime. See The Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) for ideas.

Protect your windows

Your best option is to install impact resistant windows or hurricane shutters. Otherwise, be ready to cover your windows with commercial exterior plywood – 7/16” minimum – when a storm is approaching. Duct tape provides NO protection.

Brace your gable roof 

Gabled roofs – two slopes that come together to a peak at the top – are prone to failure if not properly braced in construction. High winds could cause your end wall to collapse. See the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s Hurricane Retrofit Guide for advice: www.floridadisaster.org/hrg.

Brace your garage door

Old garage doors in good condition can be braced with retrofit kits while new doors must meet stringent wind requirements. After Hurricane Andrew, engineers determined four out of five homes that suffered major structural damage lost their garage door first.

Prepare your yard

Rock mulch, sagging tree limbs and yard furniture are among the objects that could become deadly missiles in high winds. Keep your trees pruned and clean out your gutters on a regular basis.

Flood mitigation

  • Raise or elevate equipment such as: water heater, AC, switches, sockets, circuit breakers and wiring.
  • Build with flood-resistant materials, such as cement board and marine grade wood.
  • Use flood-proofing techniques, such as flood shields for doors and waterproof exterior coating.
  • Add flood vents, which can reduce flood insurance costs for certain homes.
  • Install sewer backflow valves.
  • Clear storm drains to prevent blockages that can cause localized flooding.
  • Elevate your home.
  • Keep up with routine maintenance: cleaning out gutters and sealing cracks.
  • Be aware of the substantial improvement rules:
    • Houses substantially damaged by any cause must be elevated above the regulatory flood level when repaired.
    • Remodeling projects that cost half the value of the original structure will require the building to be elevated above flood level.

For more information, visit our flood information page

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Take a Look at Your Insurance

This is also a great time to review your insurance policies. When it comes to flood insurance, not all insurance policies are created equal. Check your policy or talk to your agent to make sure you have sufficient coverage and to determine if any home improvements would qualify for a discount on premiums. Detailed information on insurance policies can be found through the Insurance Information Institute at www.iii.org.

Start by asking these 5 Questions:

  1. What is my standard deductible?
  2. What is my hurricane deductible?
  3. Do I need flood insurance?
  4. Do I have enough coverage to replace my home and belongings?
  5. Do I have loss-of-use coverage for temporary housing expenses?

Do I need flood insurance?

Homeowner Insurance policies DO NOT cover damage from rising flood waters. If you own a home in a flood zone, your mortgage company will require you to carry a separate flood policy. Even if you don’t live in a flood zone, consider the additional coverage.

Fast Facts:

  • 20 percent of claims are from outside high hazard areas.
  • There is a 1-in-4 chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage in high hazard areas.
  • Condo association policies do not cover personal property or building elements wholly owned by the unit owner.
  • There is a 30-day waiting period for a flood insurance policy.

Ways to Save:

  • Check your policy for your CRS discount (Up to 25 percent in unincorporated Pinellas County).
  • Get an Elevation Certificate for an accurate rating.
  • Mitigate your property to reduce your premium.

Federal Assistance

If you receive federal assistance after a flood event, you will be required to carry flood insurance afterward. If your property is damaged again by a flood and you did not maintain the policy, you will not be eligible for more assistance. For more information, visit our flood insurance page.

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