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Escambia County Is Ready For 2016 Hurricane Season, Are You?

Photo courtesy of Escambia County Emergency Management

The 2016 Atlantic Hurricane is underway. The six month period officially runs from June 1 – November 30. Local and state governments have been working hard to prepare, just last month participating in the annual statewide hurricane season exercise involving response to the fictionalized Category-4 Hurricane Kimo.

Locally, Escambia County took part in the drill.  John Dosh is the county’s Emergency Management Director and he spoke with Sandra Averhart about the exercise, the county’s general readiness, and his message to residents as hurricane season begins.

Sandra Averhart: Tell us about your recent hurricane exercise, Kimo. It was shortened a little bit. How did it go?

John Dosh: Well, we focused on the recovery side of disasters. In years past, we spent a lot of time on preparedness and what would we do as the storm approaches and those types of things. We chose to shift gears this year and focus predominantly on post-impact. After the storm, dealing with a lot of the human needs side of it; the rebuilding part of it; working with a lot of the faith-based and volunteer organizations on providing human needs services for the general public, things that are a little bit outside of what government provides. It gave us a good insight. It actually posed a lot of questions that are still being answered, which was good. That’s what an exercise was supposed to do is bring those things to the surface.

SA: Give us an example of one of the scenarios you dealt with.

JD: One of the things we did (as part of the tabletop exercise) is destroy several key county buildings. And, to those people responsible for those buildings, (we asked) what is your strategy? What’s your plan for continuing operations? Government has to continue to function, so what is your plan with your facility being gone, what’s your options? Where are you going to go; how are you going to do it? And, like I say, It raised a lot of questions on their part and actually created a lot of good conversation among similar agencies, and I think a lot of partnerships are being established and some good plans are coming out of that.

SA: What is the county’s backup plan for the EOC (Emergency Operations Center)?

JD: We have several. Actually, we have three backup plans. They’re not publically announced, but we do have those. But, any facility is subject to impact. We could have a fire in this facility, which would take us out of commission. There are protections, sprinkler systems and those types of things, but there are things that could occur and we would have to go to some of our secondary or tertiary locations, which we have in a plan. It’s all laid out and we have MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) in place with other organizations to use those facilities.

SA: What would you say about Escambia County’s general readiness for a hurricane or any other disaster?

JD: As far as being ready for a disaster, I think we’re in pretty good shape. We strive all year long to do as best we can with what we have to prepare ourselves. The big thing is educating the public, making sure the public is ready and the business community is ready to address any disasters that come down the pike.

SA: Is there anything new that residents need to know about in terms of evacuation zones, etc.?

JD: All the zones and evacuation routes are all the same as they were last year. We really haven’t had any changes. A couple of years ago, we had Florida’s Regional Evacuation Study done and that’s when we had our new storm surge maps that came out, which drove us to redesign our evacuation zones, and that was a couple of years ago. So, nothing’s really changed. If people are confused with whether they are or are not in an evacuation zone, they can go to our website at www.bereadyescambia.com.

SA: What is the main thing you’d like to say to our listeners as we get ready for the 2016 edition of the Atlantic hurricane season?

JD: I’m a little bit concerned about complacency at this point, because it’s been over a decade since we’ve and an impact. We’ve got a lot of people that have probably forgotten what is was like, and we’ve got a lot of people who’ve moved into this community who’ve never experienced a tropical event. So, it’s about public education, making sure we can educate them and provide them the information they need to make their family plans. And, just make sure everybody’s ready. That’s kind of key right now is delivering that educational message: Are you ready? Are you prepared? Do you need help designing a personal or business disaster plan? We can steer them in the right direction to help them do that.

SA: Talk about some of the specific list of things people need to do to prepare.

JD: It’s a good idea to understand what the threats are to you and your family or your business. Understanding, do I live in a flood zone? Do I live in a storm surge or evacuation zone? What is my risk for fire, tornado impact? And, going down a list of all the different hazards that impact our community and trying to determine what’s the highest risk, and addressing those based upon that. So, for the tropical season, if you happen to live in an evacuation zone, a good idea to have discussion with the entire family on what are we going to do, where are we going to go if we’re asked to evacuate; and draw that out. Determine what route you’re going to take. Are your going to stay on the main thoroughfares, interstates, etc.? Are you going to take back roads? Where are you going to go? What’s your communications plan with somebody outside the community? It’s those types of things, having your disaster supply kit, all your medications, important papers, food, water, and all those type things you want to take with you.

For more information on hurricane/disaster preparedness in your county:

Escambia County: bereadyescambia.com.

Santa Rosa County:  santarosa.fl.gov/emergency

Okaloosa County: co.okaloosa.fl.us/ps/emergency-management

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.