Cooperation: the way to a safe hurricane season

Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 12:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 12:49 p.m.

In preparation for the upcoming hurricane season, local authorities have tweaked their disaster plans in preparation for the worst.

Gina Hawkins, public education specialist for the Gainesville Public Works Department, said she was most impressed by the cooperation between departments during last year's record-setting season.

"People from different departments who were working together were very efficient, even though they hadn't worked together before in some cases," Hawkins said.

She advised that residents visit the FEMA and American Red Cross Web sites and follow the tips given.

Alachua County has made a number of technical changes since last year, according to Assistant Director for Emergency Management David Donnelly.

"We purchased in the interim between this and last season critical information management software called Web EOC," an electronically-based messaging system, Donnelly said.

The previous system used by Alachua County was done on paper, and specific requests had to be physically moved from one office to another for approval, slowing processes down, he said.

"This way, we're, in essence, doing the same thing electronically," he said. "It's just going to improve the process and make it more efficient."

Hawkins said city of Gainesville's plan has also been tweaked to improve communications between divisions.

"Our plan worked very well," she said, "but there's nothing like experience to give you more insight."

She said one tip the city might not have stressed enough in previous years was to remove dead yard debris from property before any storm hits.

"Even a bad thunderstorm can cause a lot of damage," she said, "whether it's hurricanes or tornadoes."

Alachua County has taken a hands-off approach with its individual cities when it comes to disaster preparations, according to Donnelly.

"We met with each municipality and said `You know your city better than we do,'" he said.

If a hurricane does hit, the county will be supplying drive-throughs where people can be given an appropriate amount of food and water based on their family's needs. Residents can expect those to open 6 to 12 hours after winds die down, according to Donnelly.

Both Donnelly and Hawkins stressed that each household coordinate a plan in case of disaster and check local and federal Web sites for tips - and do it before the storms come.

"Now is the time to prepare," Donnelly said.

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