CLEARWATER - Clearwater was in the national spotlight earlier this week as the nation tracked Alberto, the first named storm of the hurricane season.
The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners met Monday to hear the Disaster Advisory Committee's recommendation to declare a local state of emergency as a result of the storm. Advisors said Pinellas could experience a storm surge of 5-7 feet, plus local flooding from heavy rains and wind gusts. In response, the Red Cross opened several shelters throughout the county.
Part of Pinellas County Emergency Management's (EOC) message to residents this hurricane season is to develop their own hurricane plan. The agency, which is located in the basement of the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater, has stressed that preparation should begin at home.
As seen after the Katrina conundrum last year, citizens who were unprepared needed food and water within hours after the hurricane's landfall.
Gary Vickers, EOC Director since 2002 told the Gazette June 6, "Our focus this year is on personal responsibility. Each one of us should do and plan for what we can, and then look to the governmental programs. We have programs to fill the gaps but we desperately need everyone to first take care of what they can themselves. We'll get supplies in, but not within 5-6 hours."
Vickers advises citizens to accept responsibility and plan for 3-5 days of food and water and expect power and water services to be out. "Households should make sure they have stored enough water and supplies to survive for at least 3 days per person in the household until emergency relief efforts can begin." He added, "Having kids and pets involves an automatic responsibility."
Vickers cited that parents need to be sensitive to the impact emergency events have on their children as studies have shown that children may develop post traumatic stress disorder. Vickers advises, "Parents should share information and be honest; tell kids what to expect and especially share with them what is being done to keep them safe."
Pet owners have an added responsibility also. Said Vickers, "We expect pet owners to plan ahead. They can't say on one hand, 'I love my pet and can't leave it' and then on the other hand not plan in advance for that pet's safe shelter."
Pet owners are required to pre-register at pet friendly shelters.
Since last year, the county has refined its procedures. Along with increased communication through a community notification service and a citizen's information center, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will accommodate those who need transportation to shelters. People already registered at a pet-friendly shelter may bring their dogs or cats on PSTA buses in closed pet carriers. PSTA will be in operation until tropical storm force winds occur.
Pinellas residents who already haven't are strongly urged to formulate their disaster plan. For a listing of items to include in your hurricane kit and other pertinent information, go to www.pinellascounty.org/emergency or call emergency management at (727) 464-3800.
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