The disaster preparedness public awareness campaign associated with the onset of the hurricane season has died down, but the height of the season in Florida is just beginning and continues through October. And, it's important to know that more hurricanes strike Florida than any other state in the USA.
Hurricanes develop in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. While the east coast of Florida is of greater risk and normally acts as a barrier for the Tampa Bay region, there is a hurricane scenario that could have devastating effects on our community. Hurricanes can travel through the Caribbean and strike Tampa Bay from the west. The Bay itself can act as a funnel channeling wind and wave action up into Tampa and Hillsborough County, amplifying the storm surge.
Not surprisingly, local governments have many tools in their arsenal to protect life and property and mitigate the impact of hurricanes, like construction codes to ensure buildings can handle winds from these storms. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC) coordinates a regularly updated study that maps the coastal areas vulnerable to hurricanes. The results of this study are used to determine evacuation areas and the Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA). The CHHA is most vulnerable to being inundated by storm surge even in a Category 1 hurricane - the weakest hurricane. The TBRPC also produces an annual Hurricane Guide which identifies evacuation zones and shelter locations.
Local governments also direct growth away from vulnerable coastal areas and avoid siting infrastructure and critical facilities in these high risk areas. The Planning Commission makes recommendations to ensure the CHHA is considered in land use decisions and that local comprehensive plans consider hurricane risk. The local governments then adopt policy to address the threat of hurricanes into their comprehensive plans. For example, Hillsborough County Comprehensive Plan policy discourages siting new waste water treatment plants in the CHHA; requires new development in the CHHA to be accomplished through the Planned Unit Development process which allows for a full consideration of the disaster vulnerability; and in most cases prohibits septic tanks and overhead power lines in the CHHA. Local governments commit to maintain adequate shelter space and evacuation route capacity in their comprehensive plans, requiring new development and redevelopment to demonstrate available shelter space and evacuation clearance times and/or fully alleviate any impact on these standards.
Local governments also plan for the ability of residents at risk to evacuate and ensure there are adequate shelters to handle this displaced population. In Hillsborough County, there are three Special Needs (Medical) Shelters, temporary emergency facilities capable of providing care to residents whose medical conditions exceed the capabilities of a Red Cross Shelter but not severe enough to require hospitalization. In order to accommodate residents who need evacuation assistance to a special needs shelter, it is most important to register each year, preferably prior to June 1st in advance of hurricane season.
In the event of disaster, Hillsborough County has an adopted Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP), Post Disaster Redevelopment Plan (PDRP), and adopted comprehensive plan policy guiding the post disaster redevelopment process. Of critical concern is clearing roads of debris to allow passage of emergency services, continuity of critical infrastructure and services, and facilitating optimal economic recovery. The Hillsborough County Hazard Mitigation Section is holding five public meetings (August 15, 16, 17, 22 & 23) to provide updates and seek public input from residents on the plans included in the Local Mitigation Strategy.
Residents must also do their part. Households and businesses should know their evacuation zone and shelter location and have a plan should a hurricane threaten our area. During a hurricane evacuation, HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority) buses also run special evacuation routes for people without alternatives who need transportation to get to shelters on higher ground.
Together, we can plan ahead and be prepared.