This hurricane season you should ‘know your home’
With the 2019 hurricane season dawning, Manatee County officials are entering the season armed with the lessons learned locally from Hurricane Irma in 2017, as well as from assisting with the recovery from Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle last year.
“We like to think we have a good preparedness plan here in Manatee County, but we’re always working to do more to inform the residents about what they can do to be ready for hurricane season,” Manatee County spokesman Nick Azzara said at a news conference Friday.
Hurricane season begins Saturday and lasts until Nov. 30.
This year, county officials, including Chief of Emergency Management Steve Litschauer, say they want residents to think about evacuation plans in advance, as well as whether sheltering in place is an option based on winds their homes were built to handle.
A key factor in knowing whether a home can withstand a coming storm is knowing when it was constructed.
A home built on or after March 2012 can withstand winds of up to 150 mph, or a Category 4 hurricane.
Homes constructed between March 2012 and March 2002 can withstand winds of up to 130 mph, or a Category 3, per Manatee County building codes.
However, homes on the coast built before March 2002 can only handle winds of up to 110 mph, a Category 2 hurricane, according to the county.
In places such as Duette, county officials said, the wind speed that homes built before March 2002 can outlast is reduced to 90 mph, which is not the highest wind speed capable for a Category 1 hurricane.
“Because if they live high and dry in a well-constructed home ... that was built after 2012, they withstand 150-mph winds. ... So we want them to evacuate tens of miles, not hundreds of miles. So if you live outside of the evacuation area in a well-constructed home, we want you to shelter in place if you can,” Litschauer said.
Anyone living in a manufactured or mobile home should evacuate with the first level of evacuations no matter where their home is or when it was built, Litschauer said.
Residents who plan to evacuate should also know the evacuation level their home is in. Manatee County’s website has an interactive map that shows the levels or residents can use the information tool to enter an address to determine their level.
Evacuation levels are not the same as flood zones.
Litschauer said they have also learned that it only takes a matter of three days for a hurricane to grow into a major storm, so residents should take the time to prepare early — not in the days before a hurricane arrives — since it can gain strength quickly.
“Some of the most major hurricanes to hit Florida were nothing to Category 4 and 5 in three days. Three days is not enough time for anybody to start preparing. That’s why we’re encouraging people to have a plan now because in that three-day period is not time enough,” Litschauer said.
There are a few ways to ensure the houses themselves are prepared for a coming storm:
- Trim foliage, including tree limbs, in advance, separating and setting debris out for pick up.
- Clean gutters.
- Bring outdoor furniture and extra pavers inside.
- Have quick access to hurricane shutters.
- Get sandbags several days in advance of a storm.
Being ready for a storm includes a prepared plan for evacuation. Those who choose to evacuate don’t necessarily need to leave the state; instead go a few miles from the path of the storm.
Or, if their home will be strong enough to withstand the winds, they can shelter in place.
Either way, it’s important, Litschauer said, to have a plan determined in advance of the storm.
When it’s possible, he recommends sheltering in place or if residents do evacuate, Litschauer said they should try to stay with family or friends.
“Shelters should be a last resort,” Litschauer said. “Shelters are a lifeboat, not a cruise ship.”
Manatee County has 27 shelters, which open in phases or as needed. Three are pet friendly and some are special needs shelters.
In shelters, Litschauer said they calculate about 20 square feet per person, so there’s not a lot of space to accommodate as many people as possible.
This year, pet-friendly shelters will only allow domesticated animals such as dogs, cats and birds — another lesson learned from Hurricane Irma, when shelters were at a record turnout of 95 percent capacity and people brought animals ranging from snakes to pigs.
Those who require the services of a special-needs shelter or would need transportation to a shelter should sign up with the county well in advance. The application and checklists are available on the county’s website.
Regardless of residents’ evacuation plans, officials now recommend having enough supplies to last seven days, instead of three. That’s a lesson learned from hurricanes Irma and Michael.
“Other things I stress to the public is we’re all in this together but there’s no perfect storm. But when we have time to plan and vet these things out, so everything goes in the proper order so we’re prepared for the textbook hurricane, get your stuff done,” acting Manatee County Public Works Director Chad Butzow said.
This weekend, hurricane supplies will be sold tax-free to help residents prepare for hurricane season and save money.
To receive notifications from Manatee County and public safety officials, residents can sign up for CodeRED Alerts, which will send notifications by phone call, text or email. The sign up for CodeRED Alerts can be found on the county’s website.