A monstrous storm, Category 4 Hurricane Andrew comes ashore on the coast of southeast Florida about 5:16 a.m. Aug. 24, 1992. Maximum sustained winds were reportedly 145 mph with gusts up to 175 mph.
Photo by BOB EPSTEIN, FEMA NEWS
Many houses, businesses and personal effects sustained extensive damage Aug. 24, 1992 from one of the most destructive hurricanes ever recorded in America. One million people were evacuated and 54 died.
Photo by BOB EPSTEIN, FEMA NEWS
Not much is left of this mobile home park after Hurricane Andrew passed through Aug. 24, 1992. Pinellas County Emergency Management Director Sally Bishop says there are more than 40,000 mobile homes in this county.
Photo by BOB EPSTEIN, FEMA NEWS
Emergency Management Director Sally Bishop says photos such as this one taken Aug. 24, 1992 showing the devastation done by Hurricane Andrew is the reason people need to take hurricane preparedness seriously.
Photo by BOB EPSTEIN, FEMA NEWS
Hurricane Andrew's winds were so fierce when they passed through Miami-Dade County Aug. 24, 1992 that this board is driven through the side of a palm tree. Andrew's winds caused about $26 billion in damages.
CLEARWATER - How well we all plan and prepare will make a big difference if a hurricane strikes Pinellas County this year.
Emergency Management Director Sally Bishop and Information Specialist Tom Iovino took a 15-minute look at some of the most important aspects of planning for a hurricane during the June edition of the eSeries Prepare to Survive.
Bishop reminisced about the year 1992, when “an old friend Andrew showed up in southern Florida in late August and wrote the history book on hurricanes and things to learn in emergency management.”
“Much of what has changed in the state of Florida in the last 20 years has been a direct result of Hurricane Andrew,” she said.
Andrew became a hurricane on Aug. 22, 1992 and within 36 hours strengthened to a Category 4 storm before crossing the northwestern Bahamas. Two days later, Aug. 24, early in the morning, Andrew made landfall in southeast Florida, near Homestead with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph and gusts more than 175 mph. Andrew made landfall again in Louisiana on Aug. 26 as a Category 3 hurricane.
Hurricane Andrew was directly responsible for 26 deaths and approximately $26 billion in damages. More than 25,000 homes were destroyed and about 100,000 were damaged. At the time, it was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
“When you see the pictures of what southern Miami-Dade County looked like after Andrew, it really looked like something after a bomb drop,” Bishop said.
She said it was a storm of firsts, making it interesting for scientists to study because Andrew didn’t cause a massive storm surge; instead, it was mostly a wind event.
“But it doesn’t matter how your home disappears or is damaged and your life is changed forever,” she said.
Iovino pointed out that a lot of mobile homes in Miami-Dade were gone after Andrew passed through. Bishop said Pinellas County has more than 40,000 mobile homes, a big concern for local emergency officials.
“We’ve been saying this over and over again, but it bears repeating. Run from the water and hide from the wind,” Bishop said.
In general, evacuations are planned on expected storm surge, which explains why all the barrier islands are located in a mandatory evacuation zone. Mobile homes also are included due their vulnerability to wind.
Preparedness and seasonal predictions
“I laugh every year when the predictions come out and everyone wants to know what’s thought about these predictions,” Bishop said.
She explained that regardless of the predictions it only take one hurricane to change a season with low activity to one with heavy activity for the location it strikes.
“If the one storm that shows up is off the coast of Pinellas County, it’s going to be a big storm season for us,” she said.
Iovino said if a storm hit Pinellas this year, it would “be the worst year we’ve had since 1921.”
“As I remind everybody every year, unless you were here in 1921 you have not seen a direct hit of a hurricane in Pinellas County, Bishop said. “ So if your only experience with hurricanes is here in Pinellas County, you need not prepare for what you’ve seen, you need to prepare for something that is hard to wrap your head around.”
She advised residents to go back and look at the pictures from the aftermath of Hurricanes Andrew, Charley and Katrina.
“Those are the reasons we’re asking you to prepare, not for a brush from a tropical storm,” she said.
Iovino said a big push after Andrew was individual preparedness, a message he takes to cities, organizations and homeowners associations year-round.
Bishop said individual preparedness has to start with assessing vulnerability. Adequate planning revolves around knowing your evacuation zone.
“Are you in an evacuation zone or are you not,” she said.
County residents can find out their evacuation zone by visiting www.pinellascounty.org/emergency or by calling 453-3150. Evacuation zones are also printed on the bills of Pinellas County Utilities customers and Truth in Millage statements mailed from the Property Appraiser in August.
Bishop said people who live in the higher evacuation zones, those who won’t receive a call to go unless the worst is expected, usually plan for a non-evacuation.
“You have to plan for both options if you live in an evacuation zone, and if you live in a mobile home, you need to be planning and be prepared to evacuate regardless of what your evacuation zone is,” she said.
People who don’t have to evacuate need to make sure their home is fortified and that they have the right supplies. Bishop advises that they also make a Plan B, just in case something happens and they decide to leave instead of staying.
She said the supplies you stock are different depending on whether you plan to go or stay.
“Obviously you’re not going to be carrying as much with you if you have to evacuate,” she said.
Iovino said people often fail to plan for their pets or their elderly relatives. He said that too many try to do things at the last minute – after the winds have begun to blow.
Bishop said waiting until the last minute wasn’t a good idea.
“If you wait your options are shrinking by the hour,” she said. “And people who wait tend to panic easier, so they end up with whatever’s available rather than having thought it through on the front end and be able to pick something that they find that is appropriate for them.”
She said people needed to plan for their pets, the elderly, those with medical conditions that make it difficult just to get in the car and go.
She said people on medications needed to make sure they have enough. State law allows people to get a refill, regardless of if it is time, whenever a state of emergency is declared in their local area due to a hurricane. Insurance companies are required to pay.
Iovino said one of the biggest concerns of emergency management is the aftermath.
“None of the stores are around that you need. Your doctor’s office may be closed,” he said. “It may be difficult to get in touch with friends and relatives.”
Bishop said it is hard to imagine the aftermath. What she knows is based on what’s she’s seen at disaster sites after the fact.
“Everything you know is gone basically or unavailable for a period of time,” she said.
She said people in Pinellas needed to plan for a longer aftermath and have supplies for at least seven days, despite advice from the American Red Cross and federal emergency management officials that three days is adequate.
“Because we’re a peninsula, it’s going to take more time to cut into us, to clear the roads,” she said. “We’ll have limited options. The bridges aren’t going to be useful immediately until they’re looked at, so we want people to be prepared for longer.”
Bishop said another problem is the advances in emergency management that has made response after a disaster better than it was 20 years ago.
“It creates expectations that within 24 to 48 hours someone will be here with food and water,” she said. “People need not be planning for that.”
She said people should not depend on anyone except themselves to make sure they have enough supplies to last until help can arrive and things begin to “turn back on.”
Bishop said “turning back on” could be by opening of distribution points for basic supplies or by the reopening of grocery and box stores.
Bishop said having a well-prepared populace could make a big difference in how efficiently local disaster response comes together.
“We have a very long to-do list in a post-event status,” she said. “The more we can focus on that rather than rescuing people because they’re well prepared and have their own supplies, the faster we can start to bring normalcy back to the community.”
Bishop said the first priority would be to open up the roads and debris clearance. A damage assessment will be done to determine how hard the county has been hit.
“We have to look at power restoration for critical facilities, such as hospitals,” she said. “We have to do search and rescue. A lot of these things are happening simultaneously or nearly simultaneously. Then comes water and sewer and making sure that infrastructure is turned back on. It’s a tremendous task list in a post environment.”
“It’s often said that the county has a plan but your name isn’t necessarily at the top,” Iovino said. “That’s a critical thing to remember. The aftermath could be a long endurance test.”
Bishop said actions that help the majority would have to take precedent over individual needs.
“You’re one of a community of 1 million,” she said. “In an after-event, we’ll be trying to bring back infrastructure for as many people as possible, so your name is not written in our plan although our plan is for the entire community.”
The county and its municipalities will take the lead if a disaster strikes, with support from the state and federal government.
“The state and federal response is designed to augment when we’ve exceeded our own capabilities,” she said.
Bishop said the municipalities take the lead in their jurisdictions.
“At the county level we’ll be trying to coordinate and make sure everything stays coordinated and make sure we’re filling the gap with resources they (cities) may not have available.”
Prepare now while you still can
“You don’t wait until you have a car accident to strap your seat belt on,” Bishop said. “I know that planning for hurricanes is not a simple task and it’s a mental task that most people prefer to avoid,” she said. “But if you don’t do your homework now to know what it is that you’re going to do then, you’re putting your life and your families’ lives at risk. You jeopardize the options you have available to you because you’re going to have fewer and fewer of those when the rest of the county is mobilized, the rest of the citizenry is mobilized and also trying to implement their plans.”
Unlike an earthquake or tornado, several days for advance notice can be expected with a hurricane, Iovino said.
“They’re not going to sneak up on us,” Bishop agreed.
However, she pointed out that every storm is different – as Andrew proved 20 years ago as it devastated Miami-Dade County with its high winds, and minimal storm surge.
“It changed people’s lives dramatically,” she said. “And it was the first storm we’d seen that did it that way.”
Prepare to Survive eSeries
The eSeries Prepare to Survive in plays at noon first Wednesdays of the month (the July 4 release will be June 27, due to the Independence Day holiday). Upcoming presentations are scheduled for June 27, Aug. 1, Sept. 5, Oct. 3 and Nov. 7.
The show is streamed live online and shown on PCC-TV. It is then posted online on the eSeries Web page and on YouTube. Prepare to Survive can be seen online at www.pinellascounty.org/eseries or on PCC-TV, Bright House Channel 622, Knology Channel 18 or Verizon Channel 44.
Last year’s eSeries: Prepare to Survive presentations and other videos on disaster preparedness can be viewed on YouTube at www.youtube.com/PCCTV1.