|Date:||June 03, 2017|
Osceola County’s emergency operations staff is more prepared now than it was last year.
Those are the words of county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Director Steven Watts. And he hopes residents are just as prepared to deal with the effects of a strong storm hitting the area as the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season began Thursday.
Forecasters expect slightly higher than average activity in the tropical basin this year, based on warmer than average ocean temperatures and a weaker El Niño pattern, which often suppresses storm formation, this fall. But that doesn’t matter if a storm like last year’s major Hurricane Matthew, which grazed the Florida East Coast in October, actually makes a landfall and marches inland.
Earlier this spring, the Osceola EOC earned accreditation from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program, becoming the 17th county in Florida to survive the rigorous evaluation of its entire program. Beyond the certificate, accreditation means the state adds $10,000 to an annual grant the Osceola EOC receives.
“They look at 64 different things, like preparations, operations and recovery, and make sure that all the plans are in synch,” Watts said.
Frank Lumm, EOC Emergency Management Planner, likened the two-year accreditation process to earning a master’s degree that you have to re-earn every four years, when the certification comes up for renewal.
“We had to show how we’re put together,” he said. “We’re lucky in that we’re one of the few EOCs with a working group, including county and city officials, law enforcement, hospitals and churches and other service organizations.
“It’s a statement of, ‘Here’s what we do on a daily basis.’ It may be quiet, but we’re doing a lot behind the scenes.”
Watts said it was helpful during the response to Matthew last year that systems were in place.
“That storm was a great opportunity to practice and prepare for what could have been a significant impact here,” he said. “Luckily, we have an active and engaged community empowered to be survivors rather than victims, who did everything they were supposed to do to weather that storm.”
EOC staff did mock off-the-grid storm exercise in May at its alternate location near Kissimmee Gateway Airport, using satellite phones and other non-traditional technology, to prep for the 2017 season. Residents can get as prepared as the EOC this weekend, as items related to disaster preparedness are exempt from sales tax through Sunday night.
Those items include: flashlights and lanterns under $20, gas and kerosene containers under $25, coolers and batteries (including rechargeables) under $30, tarps, tie-down kits, bungee cords and radios under $50 and generators under $750.
Other information from the state:
Floridians are reminded of the state’s insurance helpline number (1-877-693-5236). Operated by the Department of Financial Services, it connects Floridians directly to insurance experts who can help file an insurance claim, better understand their policy, and settle setbacks that can arise during the claims-filing process.
“All Floridians should keep the helpline phone number on their emergency contact list and inside their family’s hurricane kit,” Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said.
And the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) urges every citizen to register or update their Emergency Contact Information (ECI).
Residents with a valid driver license or identification card may enter up to two emergency contacts into the department’s secure ECI database.
ECI can only be accessed by law enforcement and only during emergencies such as a hurricane or crash.