MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission declared a state of emergency Friday in preparation for Tropical Storm Erika.
According to Emergency Management Chief Don Hermey, the declaration triggers actions to better prepare the county in the event the storm hits.
"This triggers the ability to start emergency plans," said Hermey. "That includes executing certain contracts like debris removal, getting special needs equipment in place and bringing in generators and certain staff."
Hermey said he will activate a Level II status for the emergency operations center at 8 a.m. Saturday. A small staff will monitor Erika overnight, and the activation will bring in additional agencies and "key players, but not the entire cadre."
The Manatee County School District, which operates 25 emergency shelters, is working closely with the Emergency Operations Center to monitor storm updates, spokesman Mike Barber said. At 8:30 a.m. Friday, the district formed an emergency response team, including Barber, Superintendent Diana Greene, two deputy superintendents, the director of risk management, manager of security and manager of safety and emergency management.
The senior leadership team and the principals also met Friday with Greene to discuss preparation.
An automated call will go out to parents and employees Friday night to deliver the latest news.
"It's been quite some time since we've had a situation like this," Barber said.
If the Emergency Operations Center opens any shelter, school will be canceled across the district until shelters are closed, Barber said.
Preparations are already underway at the schools that double as shelters, Barber said.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Friday morning for Florida.
There are no watches or warnings for Florida as of Friday, but the National Hurricane Center said residents in the Florida Keys and South Florida should monitor its progress as it moves through the Caribbean.
Forecasters remain uncertain of the storm's strength if and when it strikes Florida, but up to 15 inches of rain could arrive by Monday, creating strong potential for flooding.
The county is offering families 10 sandbags apiece from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the public works drainage section at 5511 39th St. E., Bradenton; in Lakewood Ranch Park, 5350 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.; G.T. Bray park, 5502 33rd Ave. Drive W.; Buffalo Creek Park, 7550 69th St. E., Palmetto; and Rubonia Community Center, 1309 72nd St. E., Palmetto.
Decisions to close schools and open shelters could be made as early as Saturday afternoon.
Hermey said EOC personnel will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday to begin reaching out to surrounding counties. A meeting with the National Weather Service is slated for 1 p.m. and the EOC will meet again at 2 p.m. to determine strategy dependent on the storm's strength.
Hermey said Tropical Storm Debby in 2012 is an example of what to expect.
"I look at this storm like that one, but even more so because it's been raining every day since July 24 and the ground is saturated and our rivers are high," said Hermey.
"It's also a full-moon cycle so tides are higher and all of that on top of a tropical storm can cause flooding. The goal for us is to prepare 24, 48, 72 and 96 hours out. We prepare for the worst-case scenario because it's much easier to stand down than to try and ramp things up."