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Get ready for a hurricane

Published in the Herald-Tribune

June 1, 2011

In 2004, Daytona Beach humorist Mark Lane said this about the June 1 start of the hurricane season:

Hot Topics forum

"The Florida Insurance Industry Nightmare" is the topic of a public forum to be presented tonight by the Herald-Tribune Media Group.

Reservations for a few seats remain available; call 361-4065 by noon today.

Paige St. John, Pulitzer-winning Herald-Tribune reporter, will discuss the surging premiums and shrinking choices for insurance policyholders in Florida.

A panel discussion will include Terry Butler, Florida's interim insurance consumer advocate, and two state legislators — Rep. Jim Boyd of Bradenton and Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey.

The forum, part of the Herald-Tribune's Hot Topics series, will be held at Mildred Sainer Hall on the New College of Florida campus (5313 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota). Doors open at 5 p.m. and the forum begins at 5:30 p.m.

"I don't want to give the impression I don't care about emergency preparedness. It's just that panic buying while a hurricane is bearing down on the Florida coast is such a time-honored Florida tradition, I'd feel as though I were missing a community event if I bought anything ahead of time."

Many Floridians probably felt much the same way in 2004. Preparation was a bit of an abstract concept, considering that we hadn't been seriously threatened by a hurricane in years.

Fast forward to August that same summer. With Hurricane Charley nearing Cuba and headed somewhere up the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast, the rush was on for plywood, generators, batteries and such. Traffic jams developed, and store shelves were quickly emptied by the crowds.

By the night of Aug. 12, the storm appeared headed for the populous Tampa Bay area, and there was nothing funny about it:

"This hurricane is going to cut a swath through this state that's going to impact millions of people," then-Gov. Jeb Bush told the media.

Charley and company

Charley hit Florida the next day and Bush, who had lived through 1992's Hurricane Andrew, was essentially right. But instead of blasting Tampa, Charley turned ashore earlier than expected, delivering the worst kind of surprise to Charlotte County. The hurricane landed at a fierce Category 4 intensity, causing gut-wrenching damage to Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte and Arcadia. It then pummeled its way northeast, entering the Atlantic near Daytona Beach.

Before the debris could even be cleared, three more major hurricanes — Frances, Ivan and Jeanne — hit Florida over the following six weeks.

Lane could not have known it when he wrote his hurricane preparation column, but 2004 was to be the year from hurricane hell. Not since Texas in 1886 had a state suffered four such storm assaults in one season, the AP wrote.

The next year witnessed the dreadful hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

Since then, Florida has been spared. But those of us who were here in 2004 and '05 learned a new respect for the June 1 start of hurricane season.

Early June is not a time the region is likely to experience a cyclone; August and September are the peak months for that. But 2004 taught us that storm preparation is more complicated than you might expect — so start now.

Check the 'Hurricane Guide'

Preparation involves much more than "battening down the hatches" in the days before a hurricane is projected to arrive. Those emergency actions are often so all-consuming that they leave no spare hours for such things as rounding up important documents, reviewing your wind insurance coverage, and setting up a family communication plan.

If you read page 29 of the Herald-Tribune's recent "Hurricane Guide" (published May 22), then you know that the list of recommended advance preparations is dauntingly long. It includes such advice as, "Make copies of records and photos. Make duplicates of insurance information, property deeds and other important papers and mail them to an out-of-town friend or relative. Ditto for irreplaceable photographs."

Such steps can prevent some of the many frustrations that arise in the aftermath of a severe storm hit.

A great deal of hurricane preparation involves puzzle-solving:

How strong is our house? Who will help put up the plywood if we have no storm shutters? What is our flood risk? Where is the safest place to park cars that don't fit in the garage? Where is the nearest hurricane shelter? If we must evacuate, how early must we go and can we take the dog with us? If our home is damaged, where will we live in the aftermath?

Better to wrestle with these issues now.