Pasco County hosts Disaster Expo to help residents

Pasco County marked the beginning of this year’s hurricane season with an expo aimed at helping residents better prepare for potential disasters.

The county’s 2019 Disaster Expo, held at the Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson, gave those attending a chance to learn about myriad ways to better protect themselves, if a disaster should strike.

Tim Exline of the Pasco County Health Department explains necessary storm precautions to New Port Richey resident Natalie Griffin. The health department was among a host of booths at the June 1 Disaster Expo, preparing residents for potential storms. (Brian Fernandes)

Participants at the June 1 event included the Pasco County Health Department, Pasco County Fire Rescue, the county’s Emergency Management team and other groups, such Home Depot and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Judith Tear, a wildlife mitigation specialist for the Florida Forest Service, focused on educating residents about steps they can take to protect their homes from the danger of wildfires.

She encourages residents to trim trees near their homes, especially trees that have branches that hang over roofs.

When a fire is spreading, tree limbs hanging over a home can allow the fire to endanger the residence, she said.

Her organization also works in conjunction with Pasco County’s Emergency Management team and Pasco County Fire Rescue to predict the effects of harsh weather conditions, especially with summer humidity.

“Florida Forest Service is a state agency, and we work closely with our community partners,” the specialist said. “If we find that we’re getting too dry, we look at our drought index and how many days since rain.”

Depending on how dire the circumstances look, the county can place a burn ban, which it did in 2017.

The Florida Forest Service also collaborates with the Emergency Management team to issue reverse 911 calls to those living in target areas of a fire.

Along with the Florida Highway Patrol, they help post consistent alerts on digital message boards on the highway.

And, with special occasions, such as July 4, on the way, Tear strongly advises residents to avoid fueling fires with gasoline because it makes them harder to put out.

To keep documents safe, in the event of a fire, Tear said you either need to place them in a fire safe, or keep them off site.

She also suggests scanning documents and saving them on a flash drive, as a backup.

Andy Fossa, director of Pasco County’s Emergency Management, encourages residents to have generators handy in case the power goes out.

Attendees crowded inside the Veterans Memorial Park to learn about safety tips in preparing for the hurricane season. The 2019 Disaster Expo on June 1 featured various Pasco County and independent organizations.

Fossa also emphasized the importance of using generators safely.

To avoid posing a risk to utility workers, it is important to have a generator with an automatic transfer switch, which will turn off the generator once the home’s power goes back on.

If a generator is still running when the power goes back on, a utility worker could get electrocuted, or explosions can occur within the home, he said.

Fossa said a common mistake people make is operating their generator within the home, which can lead to deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.

He recommends keeping generators outdoors and well anchored to the ground.

Residents also should be careful when they are using candles. They should not be left unattended, and they should be placed somewhere stable, so they won’t tip over.

Candles should not be left burning overnight, when everyone is asleep, he said.

Fossa also urged taking precautions to avoid become overheated.

He said unless you are not able to leave, staying home during a power outage should be a last resort.

He recommends staying with family or friends, or at a hotel, if possible.

There are also local shelters available, he said.

“Dependent on where the storm is coming from, we have the ability to open certain shelters,” the director noted. “As we see population growing, we’re very proactive. We’ll go ahead and get another shelter ready to go.”

Fossa said it’s also important to heed evacuation warnings.

In some cases, residents become stranded by flooding.

When that happens, Fossa said, it is best to stay put and wait for assistance.

In the aftermath of a storm, Pasco County Human Services and the Red Cross will go out into neighborhoods to assess the needs of residents.

For those displaced from their homes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can provide temporary housing – even hotels rooms for up to 90 days.

In sustaining a home for harsh weather, Fossa suggests protecting windows with shutters or plywood, or installing missile-proof windows.

“Some insurance companies actually give a break when you storm-harden your house,” he added.

Residents should have a go-kit they can take with them, if they leave their homes, Fossa said.

“If they decide they’re going to leave, they need to have a bag to pick up and walk out the door,” Fossa said.

This kit should include medications, hygiene products, flashlights, batteries, nonperishable food, water, plastic utensils, paper towels and other items.

Fossa suggests that residents should start stockpiling weeks in advance of hurricane season – buying nonperishable food in small increments.

Tim Exline of the Pasco County Health Department said residents should have a food supply stocked up to last 10 days to 14 days.

Getting a surplus of prescription medication is a good idea, too.

“Once an (emergency) declaration is made from the governor, you can go to your pharmacy and get up to a 30-day supply,” Exline mentioned.

Some pharmacies will send out prescriptions through the mail for those who cannot make the commute, he added.

Exline stressed that for those coming to a shelter, medication should be kept in its original prescription bottle, so that it can be properly identified by health officials on the premises.

Transportation services are available for all, but especially the disabled with limited mobility.

“If you have no way to get to that shelter, then you can call Pasco County [Emergency Management’s] office and they’ll make arrangements to have someone come pick you up,” Exline pointed out.

For constant alerts and notifications, residents can download the MyPasco app on their phones.

For additional information to prepare for emergencies, visit PascoCountyFL.net/2813/Prepare-For-An-Emergency.

Published June 05, 2019

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