SEMINOLE – Those in charge of the evacuation were pleased with the way emergency plans were followed, and meetings were being held this week to review ways to make it even better.
Alison Shanabrook, the public information officer for the fire department, said the evacuations leading up to Hurricane Charley ended up being the best trial run the city could have had.
And everything went about as well as it could have.
The first thing the fire department did was evacuate those on the Special Needs Evacuation List. Anyone who needs special help evacuating, especially the elderly and those with medical needs, and who are not on the list already should call their local fire department.
Those on this list are evacuated first, with the help of county school buses.
“We had more people evacuating than ever before,” she said. “The beaches and the mobile homes are the most vulnerable.”
Emergency personnel visited the mobile home parks to encourage residents to evacuate. There are 39 mobile home parks under the care of the Seminole Fire Department, Shanabrook said - not including Parsley’s, which is located on the beach.
Most did heed the warning and did evacuate, she said.
Those whom the fire department evacuated were brought to local shelters at Bardmoor Elementary, Bauder Elementary and Pinellas Park Middle schools. Shanabrook repeated the advice of officials countywide in encouraging residents in evacuation zones and mobile home parks to find a host home at a friend’s or relative’s house in which to ride out the storm.
Shelters, she said, should be a last resort, basically because there are no beds. Water and food is provided, she said, and the shelters are definitely preferable to staying behind in danger’s way. Another reason residents are discouraged from using shelters and that if everyone used them, there wouldn’t be enough space.
Though relieved after the close call of a hurricane’s hit, Shanabrook said the “double edged sword” is that residents might become apathetic, and not take the next storm seriously. However, the photos from areas – some of them less than two hours away – should help fight that, she said.
Shanabrook reminded residents that when an evacuation order is given, they should listen. “It’s strictly flooding” that’s the issue in non-evacuation zones in Seminole, she said. “People used to die by the hundreds in evacuation zones. But people in non-evacuation zones are better off in their homes.”
Seminole, whose neighborhoods become host to many of those evacuating from nearby beaches, was very prepared, she said, with the more than 80 fire department personnel on active duty. The city’s emergency operation center is at City Hall, where city officials are in constant communication with the county and other agencies to coordinate efforts.
“I’m really proud of all the people who evacuated, people did a really good job of responding,” she said. There wasn’t even a huge crush at the stores.
“A lot has changed since Hurricane Andrew,” she said, saying the eye-opening scenes from that storm has helped residents here prepare better.