Early preparation and preparedness are vital when it comes to weathering hurricanes or other life-threatening storms.
That was the main message that Andrew Fossa, emergency management director for Pasco County, delivered during a Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce September breakfast meeting at Seven Springs Golf & Country Club.
The county’s emergency management division deals with all kinds of hazards, ranging from wildfires and extreme heat, to sinkholes and tornadoes — but Fossa focused much of his talk on hurricanes and tropical storms, or what he refers to as “gray sky days.”
The emergency director told the audience that once the county begins notifications regarding an imminent storm — such as announcing shelter and sandbag locations — local residents should ramp up their evacuation preparation and strategy within the next 120 hours.
“You guys got to start thinking about what you’re going to do, where are you going to go, and when are you going to do it,” Fossa said.
He emphasized that residents need to have a disaster supply kit, or “go bags” stocked up well before any announcement is made.
Those preparation kits should include medications, important documents, driver’s license, passport, clothing, cash, non-perishable food, water, and so on. Motorists should fill up their vehicles before an impending storm hits.
“You’ve got to make sure you take that stuff with you because once we order an evacuation, you’re not going to be allowed back into your house or wherever you live,” said Fossa, who spent nearly three decades with Pasco County Fire Rescue before retiring there as deputy chief.
When it comes to finding a safe place during ordered evacuations, Fossa said local residents need not go far.
Aside from staying at county-designated shelters, the emergency management director recommends first traveling to a family or friend’s house more inland or in the north-central part of the state.
He advised against driving all the way out of state due to a hurricane’s “cone of uncertainty,” or playing a “guessing game” on the range of possibilities the center of the storm could hit.
A storm targeted for a certain part of Florida just as easily could veer off to Georgia, Texas or somewhere else, Fossa said.
“You don’t have to go hundreds of miles,” he said. Instead, he suggested, “go 10 miles.”
Residents should take pictures of everything valuable in their home or apartment prior to evacuating, Fossa said. Those will come in handy in the event their property is damaged and they need to file insurance claims.
He surmised: “I guarantee your insurance company is going to say, ‘Do you have photos before (the storm)?’”
Fossa cautioned the audience that media outlets have a tendency to hype hurricanes and related tropical storms, which he said can lead to community unrest.
He directed residents to the Weather Channel, National Hurricane Center or the county’s MyPasco app, to get the latest information.
“The media is going to make it a hype,” Fossa said. “That storm could still be coming off the coast of Africa and they’re start telling you, ‘It’s knee-deep in Pasco County right now.’”
Fossa also told the crowd that a “hurricane watch” isn’t cause for immediate panic.
“A lot of people think when you get that ‘watch’ you gotta run now, you gotta go hide. All the watches are saying is, ‘It’s possible,’” he explained.
For more information on the county’s emergency management division, visit pascoemergencymanagement.com.
Disaster supply kit and checklist
Here’s a list of items Pasco County Emergency Management recommends residents have on hand in case of a tropical storm or other disaster.
- Water— one gallon for each person for three to seven days
- Food — enough food for at least three to seven days, non-perishable packaged or canned food and beverages, snack foods, juices
- Non-electric can opener, paper plates, plastic utensils, plastic cups
- Grill, cooking tools, fuel, charcoal
- Blankets, pillows, sleeping bags
- Clothing, seasonal/rain gear/sturdy shoes or boots
- First aid kit, prescriptions, medications, sunscreen, aloe, bug spray
- Special items for babies, elders, persons with disabilities
- Toiletries, hygiene items and sanitary wipes
- Flashlight and batteries (Do not use candles)
- Spare house and car keys, office keys name badges
- Cash — banks/ATMs may not be available after a storm
- Radio — battery-operated or hand-cranked radio, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather radio
- Books and games
- Important documents
- Document all valuables
- Hand tools, automotive repair tools
- Vehicle — keep your vehicle filled with fuel
- Pet care items — pet food and water, proper identification, medical records, carrier bag, muzzle and leash, medications
- List of important telephone numbers, including county emergency management office, evacuation sites, doctors, bank, area schools, veterinarian, etc.
Published October 09, 2019