Pasco works to prepare for major disasters
By Kyle LoJacono
Hurricane Katrina caused mass devastation when it smashed into New Orleans in 2005, and mismanagement of the aftermath may have added to the disaster.
Pasco’s Office of Emergency Management is preparing for the day the county is dealing with its own Katrina so recovery could happen faster.
“We don’t want Pasco County to be in the same situation in New Orleans,” said Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker.
Baker said both Katrina, which made landfall as a Category 3 storm, and Hurricane Charley, which hit Punta Gorda as a Category 4 in 2004, have put emphasis on disaster planning. In fact, Charley was originally projected to hit the Tampa Bay area, but turned and hit south at the last minute.
“When you look at the date, we are overdue for a big storm,” Baker said. “It’s just a matter of time before a big one hits close to home.”
Baker said the focus of the county’s planning involves how to get people out of the danger zone.
“New Orleans did not have a good evacuation plan,” Baker said. “That was clear by what happened at the Superdome. There were other problems too. They didn’t have any real post-disaster plan in place. That’s one reason the relief aid took so long to get there and redevelopment has taken so long.”
The department had planned to begin including the extension of Ridge Road to help get people from central Pasco to the Suncoast Parkway for quicker evacuation north.
However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put a stop to the project late last year because of environmental concerns. The job would have taken Ridge west to connect with the Suncoast and US 41.
“That project was only designed to help with evacuation during a storm,” said county Commissioner Pat Mulieri. “It would have been a limited access road, so no development along it. We’re still working to try and build it, but the Army Corps’ ruling has slowed the process greatly.”
In addition to evacuation, the new plan will include how to quickly and safely resume services after a disaster.
“This is an extremely important part of the plan,” said County Administrator John Gallagher.
Gallagher added the county is working to secure a federal grant to help lay out how to resume such services as garbage pickup, water and electricity.
Pasco is vulnerable to a variety of disasters, not just hurricanes and tropical storms, according to County Planner Smita Ambadi. It is especially vulnerable to flooding, as a quarter of the county’s roads are in floodplains.
There have also been two confirmed tornadoes in Pasco during the last three years, storms which are especially dangerous to those living in the 43,000 mobile homes within the county. Ambadi said the plan will include where to temporarily house if those displaced by a disaster.
Additionally, the plan will include how to clear rubble and open hospitals and schools.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said the new plan will allow for smoother recovery, but would also allow the local government to maintain more control during the cleanup.
Ambadi said the county will host several public meetings during October and November, where county commission will ask for residents and business input and involvement.
For more information on the county’s Office of Emergency Management or a detailed evacuation map, visit www.pascoemergencymanagement.com.