Monday, 07 May 2007 01:00
State officials are gearing up for the 2007 Hurricane season with a week long exercise that kicks of Monday. The annual event will test the Florida State Emergency Response Team, or SERT’s, ability to handle any scenario Mother Nature may create.
When the exercise begins no one from SERT will know what to expect. All they know is that a fictional storm will come through Florida, testing the response capabilities of state and local agencies. The Florida Division of Emergency Management’s Mike Stone says there will be scenarios, including videos that will create a feel of real world events. He adds that anything can happen during the exercise.
“It won’t be uncommon for us to have, actually, two storms or other events thrown into the equation…actually most of us are waiting to see what will be thrown at us this year.”
Stone says with the current wildfire state of emergency all the teams will already be assembled. This year’s fictional storm – named for the exercise will be Hurricane Tolbert. The exercise runs through May 11th.
Hurricane season begins June first and state officials are asking everyone to create a plan. Florida Division of Emergency Management officials are preparing for this year’s hurricane season with a week long hurricane exercise. Starting Monday through Thursday next week, the Florida State Emergency Response Team or SERT will run drills during a fictional hurricane scenario. Florida emergency management representative Mike Stone says just as the state is preparing, so should residents.
“Now is a good time to simply get a plan…and you can build a personalized family or business disaster plan and then be prepared to take advantage of the sales tax holiday on hurricane items that begins on June first.”
This is the second year the legislature passed a tax holiday on hurricane supplies. The hurricane exercise is an annual event that tests the response capabilities of all state and local agencies. Stone adds, to get that disaster plan ready, visit www.floridadisaster.org.
Monday, 07 May 2007 01:00
Now that Florida is under a state of emergency due to the dry conditions and wildfire threat…officials are asking residents to be vigilant when it comes to price gouging.
Florida Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson is asking anyone to come forward if they think they see price gouging occurring. Under Florida law it is unlawful to charge exorbitant prices for essential items such as; shelter, gas or water during a declared state of emergency. Commission spokesman Terence McElroy says they examine every complaint about price gouging very seriously.
“We’ll take those complaints, we’ll look into them. Those that have merits will be assigned to an investigator. We’ll actually send someone out into the field if necessary to follow up on it. Anybody who is caught violating the price gouging law here in Florida is dealt with pretty harshly.”
McElroy says anyone who thinks they see price gouging going on should call 1-800-HELP-FLA. He adds those convicted could face fines up to a thousand dollars per incident.
Monday, 07 May 2007 01:00
Water managers are conducting their own exercises in conjunction with the statewide effort launched today.
Emergency officials at the South Florida Water Management District normally hold their own hurricane preparation dry run, but because the imaginary Hurricane Tolbert made landfall within the District this year they decided to join up with the statewide exercises.
Director of Emergency Management for the District - Olivia McClain – says once Tolbert makes landfall they’ll act as if it’s real and proceed from there…
“We will be deploying troops as you would say out to our critical facilities. Our damage assessment teams will be going out and simulating all the paperwork they have to do for damage assessment and reporting that back. We’ll be testing our alternate communication systems. With a major hurricane you’re going to loose communication, landlines… so we’re testing satellite radios and all our redundant communications as well.”
The exercise lasts 3 days. McClain says right now the water District’s Emergency Operations Center is activated because of ongoing drought conditions…so this test gives them a unique chance to see if they’re ready to handle two emergencies at once.
Emergency officials with the South Florida Water Management District are holding mock hurricane exercises this week in conjunction with state emergency managers. Because of severe drought conditions the district’s Emergency Operations Center has been recently activated – and that means this year water officials have a unique chance to test their ability to respond to simultaneous challenges.
The District’s Director of Emergency Management – Olivia McClain – says the fact that it’s dry right now doesn’t mean there’s less for water managers to be concerned about from the upcoming hurricane season.
“Sometimes you can experience even more flooding when the ground is hard and you get a lot of rain at one time, then the ground can’t absorb that rainfall as quickly as it normally would. So you’re going to have a lot of rain standing on the surface.”
McClain says because the South Florida Water Management District is so big they could easily be facing a land-falling hurricane in one region while other areas are still facing severe shortages.
The statewide mock hurricane exercises got underway Monday and run through Thursday.
Thursday, 19 April 2007 01:00
The Board of Governor’s of Florida’s University System said Thursday it wants to find ways to improve security at the state’s 11 university campuses…and speed up emergency notification in case of an incident like what happened at Virginia Tech.
Police at Florida Gulf Coast University say they’ve already got an enhanced notification system in place…thanks to hurricanes Charley and Wilma.
Last year FGCU got a 20-thousand dollar grant for a 2-year program that gives campus authorities the ability to instantly send text messages to thousands of people in case of emergency.
Campus Police Chief Steven Moore says all it takes is a quick, online registration…
“And if an incident occurs – and it can be something like what happened at Virginia Tech – or it could be that there’s a hurricane, or anything else that would have an impact on campus, closures or anything like that – a text message can be sent out, it goes to their cell phone. It can also notify their email addresses.”
Moore says they originally got the system in response to the active hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005.
The free service is available to anyone with a cell phone, not just students or school employees. To register go to www.fgcu.edu/alert.
Police officials at Florida Gulf Coast University are asking students and employees to sign up for a free emergency notification system that takes advantage of the prevalence of cell phones.
FGCU received a 20-thousand dollar grant 2 years ago for a system that allows authorities to instantly send text messages, and/or emails, to thousands of students or campus employees. It was a response to the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, during which campus was forced to close several times.
FGCU Police Chief Steven Moore says while the system is powerful, it’s easy to get signed up.
“Anyone can go to the website – which is just fgcu.edu/alert – and register. And from that point on it’s web-based. I can go on the system here at the police department and in a matter of 1 to 2 minutes I can send out a text message to everybody on the system.”
Moore says there’s been a huge increase in registered users in the past few days.
And that the system has many more features…including traffic alerts…which aren’t up and running yet.
The Board of Governor’s of Florida’s University System said Thursday it wants the Legislature to approve a one-time 1-point-5 million dollar addition to this year's budget for campus security – and to increase the yearly budget by 2-million dollars a year for more police officers and training.
Tuesday, 17 April 2007 01:00
Lee County residents already know how dry it is out there…and county officials are reminding them that because of the dryness the burn ban is being extended again.
The Lee County Commission has issued an extension to the current burn ban. The burn ban will now continue until at least next week. County officials, along with the Fire Chief Association, the division of forestry all determined things were too dry to lift the ban now. David Saniter, with lee county emergency management says recent fires, especially those near I-75, are reason enough for people to know how bad things really are.
“It’s very dry out there…the last couple of weeks for example we had five, six fires. It’s very dry out there and people should be aware about open burning and campfires…do not do that”
Saniter says the ban includes outside fires, bonfires, and campfires. For information about the burn ban and penalties for breaking the rules visit www.lee-county.com.
Tuesday, 27 March 2007 01:00
In the last week wildfires have closed a section of I-75 – sending thousands of motorists out of their way - and burned 275 acres in Lehigh Acres. The culprit…a combination of careless humans, a stiff breeze and unusually dry weather. Jerry LaCavera is with the Florida Division of Forestry.
“it isn’t normal conditions right now. We were just told by the National Weather Service that the period between February and March is the third driest on record in Florida’s history. The only periods that we had drier weather than we have right now are in 1927 and 1931.”
85 firefighters battled Monday night’s blaze in Lehigh Acres. Twelve outbuildings and a boat and trailer were destroyed. Fortunately, no one was injured. The cause is under investigation. LaCavera says the smallest spark – including carelessly tossed cigarette butts – can start a fire under such dry conditions. Lee County has issued a ban on outdoor burning until further notice.
Tuesday, 20 March 2007 00:00
Lee County Commissioners issued a ban on outdoor burning Tuesday – prompted by what they call severe drought conditions.
March is always a dry month – and this year even more so. So far this March forestry officials have responded to 31 wildfires in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties – the average for the entire month is 29. Forestry spokesman Jerry LaCavera says remaining hurricane debris, lack of rain and dry vegetation has created a dangerous situation. He urges caution.
"this time of the year all of our fires are started by people – so the price tag is – they need to be careful – they need to use their heads anytime they’re doing anything involving fire or a flame. anytime they’re using anything that has extreme heat or can cause sparks – they need to use their heads and not be careless."
The ban on outdoor burning in Lee County is for 7 days. LaCavera says March and April are historically the region’s driest months so the ban will most likely be extended.
Forestry officials say drought-like conditions prevail throughout much of southwest Florida. Lee County officials have responded by banning outdoor burning until further notice. Forestry official Jerry LaCavera says this year’s dry season is exacerbated by a six inch rainfall deficit. And as usual this time of year, it’s windy.
"march and april are times when a lot of fronts come through and they bring changes in wind and more forceful winds – but we also expect high winds during this period – and its not unlikely that we have those winds driving wildfires very quickly."
LaCavera urges caution – when conditions are this dry the smallest spark can be fanned into a wildfire. The summer pattern of afternoon showers usually becomes established in June – with the arrival of hurricane season.
Friday, 16 February 2007 00:00
The National Weather Service has issued freeze warnings for much of peninsular Florida tonight – including Sarasota and Charlotte counties.
Crops are at risk. Florida Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Liz Compton says the greatest concern is ferns.
“in Putnam, Volusia and Lake counties the temperature is going to get as low as the mid 20’s and we’re told that 25 to 30 percent of that crop is vulnerable they’re in a very tender stage right now, …..so it certainly a big concern and a loss of the crop is significant”
Florida’s ornamental crop industry, which includes ferns – is a ten billion dollar a year industry. Other crops at risk for damage from the cold include citrus, strawberries, potatoes and blue-berries.
Freeze warnings are in effect for much of Florida tonight – and the risk to agriculture is significant. Florida Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Liz Compton says ferns, strawberries, citrus, potatoes and blue-berries are in the most danger. She says many farmers will be spending the night in their fields.
“there will be a lot of farmers out, we’ve got folks out all weekend keeping there ear to the ground if you will checking to see how everybody is doing – yes it will be a busy weekend and I’m sure a lot of farmers are going to be out overnight hoping to protect their crops… I would imagine there’s going to be a lot of people not getting sleep tonight”
Compton says consumers could also be impacted down the line – by higher prices for produce and ornamental plants.
Tonight’s forecast from the National Weather Service in Ruskin is for lows of 32 to 40 in coastal areas of Charlotte and Sarasota counties and around 30 degrees inland.
Monday, 12 February 2007 00:00
This is Hazardous Weather Awareness week in Florida. Emergency planners are taking advantage of the designation to raise awareness of how to prepare….and survive potentially destructive weather.
Twenty people recently died in North Central Florida when tornadoes struck in the middle of the night. Gerald Campbell of the Lee County Emergency Operations Center says some of those folks may have survived if they’d received a tornado warning from NOAA Weather Radio.
“Tornadoes in particular are notorious for having a very short lead time to take action and the weather alert radio will give you the maximum lead time that’s out there. you will receive the warning as soon as the national weather service issues them. They have an alarm feature that’s loud enough to awaken a family in the middle of the night and yet they sit there quietly when they’re not needed.”
Campbell says new technology allows weather radio owners to program them to only react to weather emergencies in their immediate area. They cost about 50 dollars – and all come with battery back-ups so they can continue to work if the electricity goes out.
Lee County is training interested people this week to become weather spotters. It’s part of a push to alert the public to the threat severe weather can pose – as part of the state’s Hazardous Weather Awareness Week. Gerald Campbell of the Lee County Emergency Operation Center says trained spotters can be the eyes and ears of the weather service.
“we train these folks to pay attention to the weather and understand what they see and then they can report that information back into the national weather service. it’s helpful for the weather service to know from a ground truth level what their radar and other instruments are telling them.”
Campbell also stresses the importance of residents arming themselves with NOAA weather radios – which can warn of hazardous weather whatever time of day or night it threatens.
Schools are also marking Hazardous Weather Week by holding Tornado drills – to test their preparedness. Twenty people died earlier this month when 3 tornadoes struck central Florida.
Tuesday, 06 February 2007 00:00
Mobile home communities were the hardest hit by the severe weather crossed North Central Florida last week – killing twenty people.
Victor Hill of the Golden Gate Fire District witnessed the damage from Hurricane Charley and Wilma …but that didn’t prepare for him for carnage wrought by the three tornadoes that touched down Thursday night and early Friday morning.
“the things that are striking here are the mobile homes, where you don’t know where the mobile home was and the only thing you see is the foundation that’s carved into the ground or the remnants of it, or a resident telling you about the mobile home that’s gone that ended up a few hundred feet from it was originally at and you go to look at it and its wrapped around a tree.”
Hill says some conventional structures were destroyed too…but not nearly in the numbers of manufactured and mobile homes. But he says the power is back-on and people who still have houses and businesses are getting on with their lives.
Relief efforts continue in North Central Florida where severe weather and tornadoes last week killed twenty people and destroyed more than a thousand homes. Public Information Officer for the Golden Gate Fire District, Victor Hill, was deployed to the area. He says mobile homes were the hardest hit.
“in the lake mac area a lot of these places have been around since the early 80’s before a lot of the codes were updated so you’re seeing a lot of early model homes and in some cases a path of destruction in some cases a half mile wide that cut a swath through these things and decimated these neighborhoods. there are several cases were these mobile homes are just thousands of pieces of several mobile homes just scattered all over.”
Hill says the power is back and on this Monday many people returned to work. Meanwhile FEMA has set up shop near Lady Lake – one of the hardest hit areas. Its employees are helping the homeless find temporary shelter.