BELLEAIR – During the town’s work session Tuesday, Steve Cottrell, the town manager, outlined what Pinellas emergency planners are asking the cities to do in response to the county's serious shortage of emergency public shelters.
The county is urging towns to plan now for additional emergency shelters not only for citizens, but also for town staff and emergency workers.
Cottrell said, "There is a huge shortage. The county is appealing to all the cities to identify what buildings - public and private – can be used. They want every city to come up with as much space as possible."
The county is said to have space for 70,000 evacuees. Some local planners have said that after a category 5 storm, about 140,000 county residents would need shelter.
Last fall the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council made proposals for the 2006 hurricane season. Proposals concerning shelters included: minimum standard for refuges (locations that are needed as shelters but locations that have not been pre-approved but are needed); consider use of private structures (with reimbursement) as shelters; consider use of other public structures for use as shelters, retrofit existing and build new structures to Category 5 standards.
Commissioner Gary Kattica offered that the new Dimmmit Community Center the town is constructing will act as a shelter in the event of a catastrophic storm.
Commissioners discussed incident management further as they are considering a proposed resolution designating the National Incident Management System which reportedly is part of the Homeland Security preparations, calling for all levels of government responders to adhere to standardized procedures in the event of domestic incidents, such as those from terrorism or natural disaster.
NIMS application ensures that appropriate first responders are trained in a consistent manner so they can provide a cohesive response to emergency situations.
According to a memo from the Pinellas Planning Council, failing to become NIMS compliant will disqualify governmental bodies for funding from the Department of Homeland Security for training, exercises and equipment.
One citizen’s comments during the work session also resonated with worries for emergency management planners.
Addressing the commission about any changes to the comprehensive plan that may allow for increased density and the impacts thereof, Barbara Walters Arnold of Clearwater and a member of Save the Biltmore preservationists asked if the number of area hospital beds will be factored in when studying the impacts of redevelopment.
Arnold related two incidents which revealed what appears to be presently a possible shortage of hospital beds in the area. Arnold said her mother needed care on a weekday last October and paramedics advised that Morton Plant and Largo Med were full to capacity.
Arnold recalled her elderly neighbor’s more recent experience when in need of emergency treatment and hospitalization. The neighbor was also told by paramedics that Morton Plant was full and if brought there, would have to expect to wait.
Mayor George Mariani pointed out that the number of hospitals per the population is something for the state to evaluate.
Arnold asked, “If Belleair builds out and increases density, wouldn’t that be a matter for Belleair to think about with regards to their residents?”
Mariani answered, “I think our goal is to prevent more build out.”
After the meeting Mariani furthered that position. He said, “I think the town’s density is right just the way it is.”
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