Manatee expert: Prepare now for hurricane season

jdela@bradenton.comMay 22, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Just 10 days before the start of hurricane season, most people in Manatee County are probably not prepared for a storm.

"They wait until the last minute," said Steve Simpson, emergency operations manager with the Manatee County Department of Emergency Management.

Citizens have two opportunities this week to learn how to prepare for when disaster strikes.

Simpson will be the main speaker at a hurricane workshop at 7 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall in Lakewood Ranch.

Information booths from the county and some businesses also will be available Thursday during Hurricane Preparedness Night at McKechnie Field, as the Bradenton Marauders face the Tampa Yankees. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. game.

In Lakewood Ranch, Simpson will share lessons learned from hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012), explain storm surge and flood zone maps for Manatee County, and discuss emergency evacuation routes.

Residents also will learn how the county shelter system operates, locations of pet-friendly shelters and shelter arrangements for the elderly and those with special needs.

Information about supplies to have on hand and preparing for post-storm needs will also be provided.

Whether on a barrier island or inland, residents in

the path of a hurricane face the same basic decisions, Simpson said.

"They must assess the risk for themselves," he said. "They must decide what they're going to do and then act on that decision."

Many times, the decision to stay and ride out the storm or evacuate is made too late.

"You must assess it early," Simpson said. "You make your decision in the sunshine."

Sometimes, the county makes evacuation mandatory, Simpson said.

"If there's a mandatory evacuation ordered, there's a reason for it," he said, noting 60 percent of all deaths in hurricanes or tropical storms are caused by water, not wind.

"You hide from the wind and run from the water," he said.

Having good information is critical.

"We tell people to read the newspaper. Listen to the radio," he said.

The county's emergency management office has its own Facebook page, facebook.com//ManateeCountyEmergencyManagement. It also uses the county Twitter feed, @ManateeGov, to post official information.

"Social media is becoming highly important in finding information on the fly," Simpson said.

Jim De La, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JimDeLaBH.

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