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It's Hurricane Season, Are You Ready?

Florida Division of Emergency Management

And we're off!

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has officially begun and families are again being advised to prepare in the event of a storm. However, things this year are just a bit different.

“We are switching gears and telling everybody that we don’t know (what the situation will be) with the COVID, so you probably ought to plan for seven days.”

Brad Baker is the public safety director in Santa Rosa County. In past years public safety directors around the state have preached that "the first 72 are on you," meaning you should have enough supplies in your home to ride out any storm and its aftermath for 72 hours. With the coronavirus pandemic still keeping much of the area locked down that’s been expanded to seven days.

“Whatever that takes to sustain you and your family for seven days," he said. "Anything from food, water, medication, pet supplies, things to keep the kids busy. Just anything you need to put in your kit to be self-sustaining.”

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June first through the end of November.  This year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted it will be a fairly busy season, saying there could be 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 of them could become hurricanes and three to six could develop into major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher. Brad Baker pointed out that we’ve already had two named storms and the season is just getting started.

Baker says people should know if they live in an evacuation zone and make plans far in advance about what to do and where to go if a mandatory evacuation is ordered. And if you are not under that evacuation order, you have to make plans for that too.

“If you’re comfortable in your house for the level of wind that’s blowing then we are probably going to encourage you to stay there. If not, go to a family (member or) friend’s house.”

That’s because people who need to stay in evacuation shelters will need to take precautions against the coronavirus.

“We are going to do some spreading out of folks in there for the COVID," he said. "You know it’s not going to be a comfortable spot. We’re going to give you a spot that is rated to handle the wind but that’s pretty much it. And then we are going to spread people out within that (shelter). So we’ll have to open more shelters if a larger storm comes and just deal with the (coronavirus) as it is. You’ll have to have a mask and social distance within the shelter; we’ll have to come up with a different feeding plan, box lunches or something like that. So, it’s interesting times that we’re in.”

Baker says that although it has been awhile since a major storm has hit Escambia or Santa Rosa County, he and his team have learned lessons from helping out during Hurricane Michael and other nearby storms. The biggest was dealing with the loss of communications during and after the storm.

“Cell towers were down, fibers were cut, it was just a mess," he added. "So we’ve expanded our capacity here in Santa Rosa County. We have multiple redundancies in place. We’ve increased our satellite capability at our (emergency operations center). We freshened up our satellite phones. We haven’t had to use them in a while; we took them to Michael and knew they were out of date then, so we freshened them up. We’ve expanded our cell phone carries. So we’ve done our part so we can stay in communication with the state. We’ve beefed up our amateur radio network around here as well, so we feel confident (all) that we can do.”

Tropical storms Arthur and Bertha have already formed in the Atlantic and brought heavy rains to the east coast. When the next storm forms it will be named Cristobal, followed by Dolly. And if need supplies for your home’s hurricane kit, Florida is currently in its annual hurricane sales tax holiday. That holiday runs through Thursday, June 4. You can find a list of item eligible for the tax holiday here

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.