It’s official: Manatee County and much of the rest of the west coast of Florida don’t have enough room to shelter people from the next big storm.
Three regions are lacking shelter spaces: Central Florida, Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida, according to the 2018 Statewide Emergency Shelter Plan that is released by the Florida Division of Emergency Management every other year.
Although the 2016 state report suggested Manatee County would have a surplus of 6,444 spaces that year and 6,275 in 2021, the 2018 report puts the county at a deficit of 8,381 spaces this year and 10,162 in 2023.
The Tampa Bay region, which encompasses six counties from Citrus to Manatee, is expected to lack nearly 15,000 spaces for evacuees in the general population in 2018, and more than 17,000 in 2023. The Southwest Region from Sarasota to Collier counties lacks about 123,000 spaces this year, and Central Florida needs 14,000.
Every region except for South Florida also lacks sufficient special needs shelter space. Fewer than half of the counties in Florida, including Manatee, have enough space designated for evacuees that require additional assistance.
Manatee County’s current estimated population of 375,888 surpassed what had been expected for 2021, so the latest report reflects what the county’s public safety officials had predicted during a December work session with county commissioners.
The report reviews the state’s surpluses and deficits in a five-year span by its 10 regional planning councils and by county. The demand is determined based on every Floridian’s nightmare: a Category 5 hurricane, meaning winds over 156 mph.
Coming off the heels of Hurricane Irma, a Category 1 when it hit the Sarasota-Manatee area, local leaders found that nearly 70 percent of Manatee’s 25 shelters were filled when mandatory evacuation was required for only residents in Zone A and a voluntary evacuation was issued for residents living in Zone B.
While it was suggested early on that shelter-seekers from Southwest Florida would make up a major portion of the shelter population, as they would evacuate north, just 5 percent of the people in Manatee’s shelters were from out of town.
Two new schools being constructed — a high school in Parrish and middle school in Lakewood Ranch — aren’t set to be built with Enhanced Hurricane Protection Area, or EHPA, standards that equip buildings with special features like a shelter manager’s office, different roofs and stronger windows.
It’s up to the school board to make these decisions, but they don’t know yet how it will affect future operations. County public safety officials weren’t available to comment Thursday on the findings of the report.
“We have just received this report and it will take some time for us to review it so we can understand how it may influence current and future construction projects in our school district,” said Ron Ciranna, the School District of Manatee County’s deputy superintendent of business services and operations.