LAKEWOOD RANCH -- As weather forecasters eye the season's first tropical depression off the east coast of Florida, Manatee County is considering the new Lakewood Ranch Operations Center as a community distribution point for emergency relief supplies should the need arise.
The Manatee County Emergency Operations Center, central coordinating point for all emergency preparedness, response and recovery activities, has identified the master-planned community's maintenance facility off Lorraine Road near the Premier Sports Campus as one of 28 designated points of distribution to hand out food and water should an emergency or natural disaster warrant it.
"Because the building is so new and built under the latest standards, it would be an ideal place and the best central location in Lakewood Ranch," said Bob Swiatek, district supervisor and president of the Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Association.
The operations facility, which houses all maintenance and landscape operations for Lakewood Ranch and serves as the base for administrative staff, is also being considered as a location for a backup generator by Manatee County.
The Lakewood Ranch Operations Center is good for
emergency assistance because it's accessible from main highways and roads and parking is plentiful, said Steve Simpson, operations manager for Manatee County Emergency Management.
"The distribution point system depends on need if there's a huge storm and supplies begin to run out," Simpson said. "That's why we encourage everyone to have seven days of their own supplies stored in their homes.
"But you never know what might happen and we need to be ready as soon as possible," he said. "The U.S. National Guard, aided by local law enforcement, is the first on the scene to distribute emergency supplies until Manatee County takes over."
While there is no need for Lakewood Ranch to have its own emergency disaster plan because the community is situated well east of the county coastal planning and evacuation areas, the Inter-District Authority that manages and supports Town Hall and the volunteer Lakewood Ranch neighborhood group of 250 Community Emergency Response Team members are the main points of initial contact for a large-scale emergency or disaster.
Operations Director Ryan Heise has completed advanced education at the national Emergency Management Institute under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Authority, which established CERT in 2006. The Lakewood Ranch Town Hall administration is also the point of contact for Manatee County Emergency Operations.
Lakewood Ranch CERT volunteers have all received special training to provide search and rescue, first aid and radio communications support when professional responders such as fire and law enforcement aren't available.
"CERT has a plan of action. They enact the emergency call that goes to the neighborhood responders. That person gets ahold of the team members and the response starts. Team members have radio communications with central communication that is linked to Manatee County," said Swiatek, who is also a CERT member.
East Manatee Fire Rescue District, headquartered on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, can serve as a backup county emergency center for organizations such as CERT.
"We work with CERT and their ham operators. They can set up their radio communications equipment in our center to contact the neighborhoods. So far, we've been fortunate. We haven't had to put it to practical use yet," Fire Chief Byron Teates said.
Manatee County also has a comprehensive website dedicated to emergency preparedness at mymanatee.org.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.