A display at the Emergency Operations Center in Largo during media day June 1 shows the difference between the 2016 and 2017 evacuation maps.
Photo courtesy PINELLAS COUNTY MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS
The county’s new storm surge banner hangs from a Largo fire engine June 1. The top of the banner shows the potential storm surge – 35 feet – during a level E evacuation.
Photo by TERRE PORTER
This 10 square foot area represents the available space that would be available per person at a hurricane shelter during a Level E evacuation.
LARGO – Pinellas County’s Emergency Operations Center kicked off the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season June 1 by hosting a media day to unveil new preparedness tools and urge residents to check to see if their evacuation zones have changed.
One big announcement was the launch of a new tool, the “Ready Pinellas” mobile app. Sally Bishop, Emergency Management director, described the new technology as a “plan in your pocket.”
Ready Pinellas connects to Alert Pinellas, the National Hurricane Center, social media and more. It provides information needed to assess risks, check evacuation levels and storm surge. Residents and visitors can enter information to create a personal emergency plan. The app also has checklists and up-to-date evacuation information based on your location.
The free app can be downloaded on the Apple Store and Google Play.
“Knowledge is power,” Bishop said while describing the benefits of the new app.
Preparedness can make the difference between panicking and having peace of mind during a tropical storm or hurricane, she said.
Evacuation map changes
Probably the most important message EOC officials revealed involved changes to the county’s evacuation maps and storm surge models. The changes came about due to new information from the National Hurricane Center and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council that better defines the potential threat from surge, said Joe Borries, EOC Operations manager.
Using this new data, EOC staff was able to run a “programmatic GIS process” to determine what storm surge category affected at least 35 percent or more of a parcel, Borries explained. Staff focused on the amount of above ground water 1.5 feet high or greater, which is just above the height of electrical outlets in a home. In addition, when water gets above 1.5 feet, cars begin to float, he said.
“When the National Hurricane Center updated its models, it made the difference in only being able to tell there would be water on a parcel to knowing how high that water would be – 1.5 feet,” Bishop said. “It allows us to be able to tell people to go when it is prudent to go and if not, they don’t have to evacuate.”
Borries said 85,193 parcels changed evacuation levels. Of that number, 74,688 parcels changed to a lower level, 10,505 changed to a higher level, and 19,882 changed from a non-evacuation zone to an evacuation zone.
Storm surge models also were updated. Homes in an E evacuation zone now have the risk of experiencing storm surge up to 35 feet, D zone up to 28 feet, C zone up to 20 feet, B zone up to 15 feet, and an A zone up to 15 feet.
E zones are shown in purple on the evacuation map. When an E level evacuation is called, it includes D, shown in green; C, shown in yellow; B, shown in orange; and A, shown in red. Mobile homes are included in all evacuation levels. Areas on the map shown in white are non-evacuation zones.
“Everybody needs to know their evacuation zone,” Bishop said.
Evacuation levels also are printed on utility bills in print and online, and available by doing a property search at the Property Appraiser’s website, www.pcpao.org. In addition, information about evacuation zones can be accessed on the county’s Doing Things for You mobile app and the new Ready Pinellas mobile app.
What else is new?
Because of the changes in evacuation zones, the availability of shelter space has become more challenging. Over the years, the county has worked to increase the number of spaces and the size allotted to each individual.
But due to the new storm surge models, during a level E evacuation, which would affect the most homes, there would be a loss in available shelter space. People will no longer have 15 square feet in which to take shelter. Now, people will only have 10 square feet.
Shelters have always been intended as a last resort, and people have been encouraged to stay with family and friends who live in non-evacuation zones whenever possible. The EOC advocates a host home program, something used by county employees, as an alternative to staying in a shelter.
People who live in evacuation zones are paired with people in non-evacuation zones who have matching lifestyles. Host homes are informal settings preferably with friends, family, group members or co-workers. It is a formal voluntary program with participation from employers, faith-based communities and civic organization. More information is available at www.pinellascounty/emergency/hosthomes.htm.
Adopt-a-Shelter is a pilot program this year at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. Bishop explained the options for participation, which range from providing education, establishment of a host home program, establishment of a public or private shelter, support for other shelters and support after the storm. If a public shelter is established, the EOC could provide money to make it more hurricane safe. For more information, call Emergency Management at 727-464-3800.
The Billboard Emergency Alert System is a partnership with community organizations and agencies and uses digital billboards located throughout the county. Emergency messages will be posted during a storm to make sure the public receives warnings and notifications. Anyone with a digital billboard can join the network and receive public messages to display. Call 727-464-5550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.