Candidates promote hurricane programs

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
MIAMI - From making a tax holiday for hurricane supplies permanent to examining evacuation plans and toughening laws on looting after storms, Florida's gubernatorial candidates say more can be done to prepare for and respond to hurricanes.
Both candidates say there is more to do before and after storms and even agree on several proposals. Both, for example, say they would make a sales tax holiday for storm goods permanent. Both also want to increase efforts to hurricane-proof homes before storms. The improvements would make the buildings sturdier and lessen costly storm-damage repairs, they say.
The candidates approach mitigation efforts differently, however.
Crist wants to encourage communities to take advantage of existing programs and make them more efficient and says he would work to make money for proactive efforts available. He wants to be sure that homes with blue tarps after one season are repaired.
Davis, meanwhile, proposes broadening state programs, including tax credits, grants, and low-interest loans for mitigation efforts.
He also wants to expand financial incentives for people who hurricane-proof homes and businesses.
Public-private partnerships also play a role in both plans.
Davis wants to develop a statewide awareness campaign, "Operation Get Ready." It would involve financial institutions, home improvement stores and real estate agents, among others, to publicize hurricane-proofing efforts. Crist, meanwhile, suggests a public-private network of retailers to ease distribution of goods after a storm and has pledged to get resources to the hardest hit areas within 24 hours.
Both candidates also have their own suggestions. Crist has proposed training small businesses in hurricane preparedness, including budgeting and response efforts, so they can reopen quickly. Day-care facilities should also be prepared for storms and so families have a safe place for their children soon after a storm, according to Crist's plan.
Crist says he will expand Florida's 211 system, which would connect people with information during emergencies. He would increase penalties for looting after storms and give incentives to businesses and organizations who organize hurricane supply drives.
Davis has stressed being vigilant about updating evacuation and hurricane preparedness plans, especially for the disabled and elderly, and making sure emergency personnel and local governments have the resources they need. He has also said he will focus specifically on preparing seniors for storms, implementing a preparedness plan for elderly Floridians and cracking down on criminals who target seniors.
Making sure the state is prepared to coordinate with federal disaster response officials and ensuring disaster preparedness agencies have appropriate resources are also priorities.
Preparing Florida for potential disasters is one job that begins immediately for the next governor, said Craig Fugate, the state's emergency management director.
"From the first moment they're sworn in they have to be the disaster governor," Fugate said. If the governor isn't ready, he said, then any disaster that does hit can become an all-consuming issue.
"If you do well then you can build upon it. If you fail on it you can forget any of your other initiatives," he said.
He said he is ready to work with whoever becomes the next governor and help implement proposals the governor makes.
"My worst nightmare is a transition team that comes in here and says this looks great," he said.

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