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Unpredictability makes hurricane planning important

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South County hazard zone inhabitants could have access to as many as eight emergency shelters between Ruskin and Riverview

By MELODY JAMESON

If, by chance, the 2012 hurricane season should offer up “the big one,” South County hazard zone inhabitants could have access to as many as eight emergency shelters between Ruskin and Riverview.

All are public schools. Four of them are designated for use during “low intensity” storms, categories 1 and 2, while four are classified for use under the “high intensity” conditions of category 3, 4 or 5 storms. In addition, the “low intensity” storm shelters are larger, considered the primary safe centers and are the first to be opened, notes Holly Wade, spokesperson for Hillsborough’s emergency services management. The “higher intensity” facilities would be made available as conditions and demand required, she adds.

Only one of them, though, is pet friendly.

The first tier or low level intensity South County shelters are: Lennard High School on East Shell Pont Road , Doby Elementary School on Covington Garden Drive in the Covington Park subdivision immediately south of Big Bend Road, Beth Shields Middle School north of the SouthShore Regional Library on Beth Shields Way and Sessums Elementary, Ramble Creek Drive, Riverview.

Both Beth Shields and Lennard are wheel chair accommodating. Beth Shields, in addition, is the one South County shelter accepting pets.

And, for anyone taking a pet along to a shelter, there are several rules. Proof of current license and vaccination are required. The animal should be in a pet carrier or crate large enough that it can stand and turn around. Pets and their owners are not sheltered together. Owners should bring all items needed for care of the pet – food, water, dish, collar, leash, bedding, litter, box, scoop and any medications needed for the animal. Additionally, owners are responsible for care of their pets while in the shelter.

Under high intensity conditions, four more South County shelters could be opened if demand required. Included on this list are: Reddick Elementary on Westlake Drive north of Wimauma; Summerfield Crossings Elementary at the eastern end of Summerfield Boulevard near the Balm-Riverview Road; Collins Elementary on Fairway Meadows Drive in the Summerfield Crossings subdivision, and Symmes Elementary on Watson Road, north of Riverview.

The Regent, a palatial edifice also on Watson Road , originally described as an emergency shelter when being built with public funds and now frequently used as an upscale meeting, hospitality and wedding venue, is classified as “a special needs shelter,”

As such, it is not included on any published or public listing, managers allow.

 Emergency services managers caution that shelters are opened on an “as needed” basis and that opened shelters may vary from storm to storm incident. To avoid making a useless trip – perhaps under threatening conditions - residents are strongly advised to listen to radio and television broadcasts as a storm approaches to learn which shelters are going to be made available at what time, managers say.

Moreover, using a public emergency shelter should be a last resort, managers emphasize. While they provide safe haven from cascading and possibly flooding rains as well as safety in the face of the powerful winds delivered by hurricanes, comfort and privacy can be severely limited.

Instead, managers advise that a family evacuation plan be devised now, in preparation for dealing with the serious or threatening storm which cannot be predicted. Family members should agree on meeting at a single site and be prepared to leave the area in a timely manner if living in any of the evacuation zones along either fresh waterways or parallel with salt water. Residents in mobile or manufactured homes or recreational vehicles also should be prepared to evacuate, regardless of the zone.
The family evacuation plan should include pre-storm arrangements made with friends or relatives or even commercial sites such as motels or hotels located on high ground inland so that temporary relocation can be made quickly and efficiently before conditions threaten lives.

Hillsborough citizens can access evacuation zone maps as well as additional planning information at www.hillsbroughcounty.org, under emergency services in the departments menu. The contact telephone number for shelter or related information as a storm approaches is 813/272-6900.

It has been six years since Florida sustained massive damage due to rampaging storms crossing the state and decades since the SouthShore area was impacted by a hurricane on a parallel course in the Gulf of Mexico. It also has been nearly a century since a killer storm made a direct strike on Hillsborough County, a fact which sometimes prompts conjecture about “the big one” being past due.

Predictions for the 2012 Atlantic- Caribbean storm season call for fewer than usual named storms. Yet, prior to official beginning of the season, two named but weak storms erupted, proving that no one knows with any degree of certainty when or if destruction driven by howling winds and pounding rain will come ashore.

It’s that unpredictability, that inability to anticipate “the big one,” managers know, which makes evacuation planning, temporary relocations and emergency shelters so vitally important. They can save lives.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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