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Santa Rosa Ramps Up Hurricane Preparedness


The 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season is off to a quiet start. But, if a storm were to threaten the Florida/Alabama gulf coast, local officials are ready and want you to be as well.

For emergency management personnel, preparedness is a year-round venture. However, Brad Baker, emergency management director for Santa Rosa, says in the run up to June 1, which marks the beginning of hurricane season, there’s always a special focus on ‘hurricane’ readiness.

“We brought all the staff in and went through a simulation of a hurricane exercise, and threw in a few other scenarios with a train derailment and an overturned cattle truck during the actual hurricane to kind of mix it up and test our overall approach to emergency management,” Baker said. “We feel like that was a success and we’re geared up and ready to go.”

Baker attributes much of the county’s preparedness to lessons learned from previous storms such as Ivan and Dennis, which in 2005 was the last major storm to strike the area.

But, in terms of individual readiness, Dennis was a decade ago and the population in Santa Rosa has grown 15 percent since then.

“There’re a lot of people who live in our county that have never experienced a hurricane before. So we’re concerned for that fact they’ve never been through one and don’t know what to do,” said Baker. “And, then those of us who’ve been around, it’s been 10 years, so there’s a complacency issue.”

For this 2015 hurricane season, there will be a bit of a learning curve for everyone, as the National Hurricane Center is putting more of a focus on storm surge, which is the most deadly aspect of a hurricane.

“That’s right, we tell people to run from the water and hide from the wind,” said Baker, noting that the National Weather Service and Hurricane Center are rolling out new experimental storm surge watch and warning graphics.

The increased storm surge date provides local governments guidance on where evacuations should take place, thus local storm evacuation zones have been tailored to meet that.

Now, all county evacuation zones are lettered A through E, with people living in zone A required to evacuate for all hurricanes, while those on other end of the scale –in zone E- would be required to evacuate for storms that are category 4 & 5.

There is an interactive feature on the Santa Rosa County web site where residents can search the status of their property. 

Additionally, residents also are encouraged to register for the county’s GeoCast emergency notification call out system, which takes into account that fewer and fewer people have traditional land-line service.

“You can put your cell phone in there. If you want to get an email or text, you can check all those boxes  and whenever there’s a disaster that’s possibly [going to] strike your area, we make those alerts through that system,” Baker said.

The bottom line is to “be prepared and get a plan.”

To that end is the work of the Support Alliance for Emergency Readiness or SAFER Santa Rosa.

“We’re hoping to help educate the community as to mitigation and preparedness steps needed for any disaster, all hazards,” said Daniel Hahn, who is a planner for the county and serves as administrator for the non-profit SAFER Santa Rosa, which is similar to BRACE in Escambia County.

The organization is finalizing plans for its fourth annual preparedness expo to be held Saturday, June 20 at the Gulf Breeze Recreation Center. This year’s theme: “Zombie Apocalypse Survival Party.”

“[That’s] because if you can survive a zombie apocalypse, well you can survive a hurricane, tornado or a flood,” Hahn said.

According to Hahn, inspiration to pick this theme came from a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention “zombie” awareness campaign that was a huge success. Besides that, they wanted the event to be enjoyable.

“We’re [going to] have tables for people to shoot Nerf guns at zombie targets and some of our vendors may be dressed up as zombies, and it’ll all be playful and fun,” he said.

But, there will be plenty of useful information to go around, including tips on what to do in a disaster situation, such as hardening and preparing your home and what supplies to have on hand.

And, that disaster kit should be usable in any type of emergency scenario, including hurricanes, tornadoes, and chemical spills.

“You should be able to put it in the car if you decide to evacuate for any disaster, including terrorism, and of course, if there’s a zombie apocalypse, you can have your kit to survive as well,” said Hahn.

The SAFER Preparedness Expo “Zombie Apocalypse Survival Party” is Saturday, June 20 at the Gulf Breeze Recreation Center. More information is available on the Santa Rosa County web site and the SAFER Santa Rosa Facebook Page