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Local EOCs Worry Floridians Are Complacent This Hurricane Season

Tropical Storm Colin makes landfall on the Florida coast.
Tropical Storm Colin makes landfall on the Florida coast.
Tropical Storm Colin makes landfall on the Florida coast.
Credit iStock/Thinkstock
Tropical Storm Colin makes landfall on the Florida coast.

During hurricane season, the only thing that’s consistent is inconsistency.

That’s why local emergency management directors worry the lull in landfall hurricanes has made Florida residents downplay the threat.

“People get complacent,” says Emergency Management Director Pamela Brownell in Franklin County. “They tend to forget what kind damage a storm can do. They tend to not get their stuff together because they’re thinking well it’s going to be like last year.”

Brownell has just finished navigating through Tropical Storm Colin, where a tourist drowned. The storm also made a big hit on Alligator Point and St. George Island.

She says her organization is prepared for hurricane season, but says it’s important for Franklin County citizens and tourists to have a plan for themselves, too.

“If our citizens of Franklin County are prepared, then we’re ready,” Brownell says. “But this office is ready. We’re ready to react, respond and recover. But your best plans are just plans unless your people are ready, and they take them seriously. I’m afraid that after not having a storm for so many years that people are not going to be ready.”

This fear of complacency resounds in other emergency management centers further away from the coast.

Madison County Emergency Director Alan Whigham worries residents don’t perceive hurricanes as a threat because of the county’s geographic location.

“A lot of people think because of our location and our terrain that we’re exempt from getting any type of effects from a hurricane, and that is wrong,” Whigham says.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted there will be 10 to 16 named storms this year.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida’s population broke 20 million in 2015, a 7.8 percent increase since 2010.

That means there could be millions of Floridians who have never experienced a major system, says Scott Nelson–the emergency management director for Wakulla County.

“If you look at people who are new and moved to the area, we have quite a few people that have not seen the impacts directly of some of these larger storms,” Nelson says.

And he has some word of advice for these new Floridians.

“The bottom line is that it only takes one,” Nelson says. “Andrew was an A storm, and it hit in August. It really depends on where they hit and how significant they are. So for us, a tropical storm is significant to where it impacts.”

Local emergency directors warn residents not to get too comfortable this hurricane season and to have an emergency plan ready in case of a major storm.

This includes an independent survival pack that can last 72 hours and an evacuation plan.

“We watch the chances of having this be more of a significant year,” Nelson says. “But again, if we only have one and it impacts us, then it’s too many.”

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Tori Whitley
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