By PHYLLIS HODGES
MaryAnn Meeker is passionate about getting Sun City Center residents informed about how to plan for Florida’s hurricane season (June through November). She leads the Kings Point Disaster Planning Committee, which worked with the master association to bring together representatives of a dozen organizations on March 16 to talk about their state of readiness.
The last hurricane to hit Tampa Bay was in 1921 and due to several “missed us” storms since then, complacency continues to be a problem for this area. The forecast to date for this year is 13 named storms and six hurricanes, and emergency management officials are hopeful that the devastation by IAN will create a new sense of urgency this year.
Sun City Center is not an evacuation zone due to its distance from Tampa Bay and high elevation, and residents are advised to shelter in place. For those who choose to leave, officials continually urge early departure to avoid clogged roads.
KP Master Association General Manager Shawna Deiulio opened the symposium with a welcome to the audience and participants in the program. Her remarks underscored the forum’s central theme: Whether you decide to stay or go, have a plan and prepare well in advance.
Sun City Center Emergency Squad Chief Mike Bardell, serving as emcee, gave the audience food for thought with a hypothetical “scary” three-day scenario of media warnings about a hurricane heading toward Tampa Bay. He talked about steps the squad takes, including stationing ambulances and vans in various locations before the projected storm to negate potential damage.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Merry followed Bardell by explaining that the county stops dispatching first responders with sustained winds of 35 mph. Service resumes as soon as possible when winds die down. He made a passionate plea for residents to STAY HOME immediately after a storm and cited actual examples where people venturing out to “see the damage” hindered first responder efforts. Accidents and increased traffic divert deputies from areas where their help is really needed.
TECO’s Kelly Knigge laid out the company’s order of priorities to restore service. He also warned against approaching downed power lines and entering flooded areas. Cautioning against carbon dioxide poisoning from generators, he said units should always be outside and recommended carbon dioxide detectors.
Robert Caplish, representing South Shore Hospital, emphasized that the hospital is not a public shelter but does accommodate special needs individuals. He said hospital services must be reserved for illnesses, injuries and medical emergencies, and they maintain close contact with emergency management groups during storms.
The program then segued into remarks by Tray Lawson from Hillsborough County Emergency management who talked more about area shelters. Since SCC is a not an evacuation area, county shelters are not open to its residents except for those with special needs who must make advance arrangements.
Other speakers from the SCC Security Patrol, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT ), KP Radio Club, Sun Radio, SCC Mens Club, and Deliver RX explained how their organizations respond to community emergencies. Also on the program were the insurance vendors servicing KP residents who clarified the company’s responsibilities to restore damage.
Many of the groups represented were already distributing materials about steps for preparing for the “season.” Soon to be published by Hillsborough County is a an Emergency Guide and a 13-week buying guide to help in gathering supplies well in advance to prevent clogging up the stores. Such publications as well as forums such as this are all targeted toward discouraging complacency. Watch for them!