MANATEE COUNTY – Emergency Management Chief Steve Litschauer joined forces with Director Jake Saur and Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore on Monday, June 22 to help prepare residents in the event a hurricane comes to the area.
While many things have stayed the same, such as the need to have food, water, medicine and other supplies for each member of your household, including pets, some things are changing this year due to COVID-19.
One of the major changes this year is that the county emergency shelter capacity is reduced to 35% due to social distancing procedures. And while social distancing will be employed at shelters, Whitmore said that doesn’t mean that people coming to shelters will be safe from contracting the virus, even while wearing a mask.
“Shelters should be used as a refuge of last resort,” Litschauer said, asking that anyone who can go somewhere else outside of the evacuation zone make plans to do so now, before a storm strikes. If you must go to a shelter, you must bring all personal items including bedding, a cot or mattress, sanitary supplies and other necessary items.
Anyone who would need to go to a medical special needs shelter is advised to sign up now to make sure that space and equipment are available for them in case of a storm. Medical special needs shelters are open only to those who are oxygen dependent, electricity dependent or who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia. One caregiver or family member is allowed to accompany the patient, as well as a pet. To sign up, visit www.mymanatee.org/needs.
Sheltering in place and evacuating
If you live in a storm surge flood zone or a mobile/manufactured home and a hurricane comes this way, be prepared to evacuate. If you must evacuate, Litschauer says to go 10s of miles, not 100s of miles. He suggested planning to stay with a friend or family member or hotel outside of the evacuation zone but close enough that you don’t risk getting trapped in traffic during the storm or running out of gas in heavy traffic. If you do leave, take your hurricane kit with you and leave as early as possible to avoid long traffic delays.
If you can, Litschauer recommends sheltering in place at your home. Cover the windows and doors, if not hurricane windows, with plywood or hurricane shutters. Secure loose gutters, downspouts and loose shingles. Bring in your lawn furniture and anything that could become a flying projectile in the storm. Make sure your vehicles have a full tank of gas and that you have gas for your generator, if you have one. Trim tree limbs that could fall on your house and secure your garage door. Get sandbags early and use them to prevent water from creeping into your home underneath doorways.
To know your evacuation level, get information about the year your home was built, where your local shelters are, locations for sandbag pickup and other information helpful in an emergency, visit www.mymanatee.org/resident/information and enter your home address. To find out what local shelters and sandbag locations are open, visit www.mymanatee.org/emergencyinfo.
The year your home was built is valuable information in a storm emergency because it tells you what Manatee County building codes were in effect when it was built and estimates its wind resistance, not factoring in improvements, such as a new roof. Houses built before March 2002 were built to withstand 90-110-mile-per-hour winds at minimum standards. From March 2002-2012 those standards were raised to 130 mph. In March 2012, those standards were raised again to 150 mph where they currently stay.
Another change this year is that it’s now recommended to have enough food, drinking water, sanitary supplies, medicine and medical supplies for each member of your family for seven to 10 days, an increase from the previously recommended three to five days supply. If you have children, make sure to have comfort items, toys/games and kid-friendly foods in your kit. For pets, make sure to have food, water, a manual can opener, a copy of your pets’ medical records, a recent picture of you with the pet, a carrier or crate big enough for the animal to stand and turn around in, litter and a litter box, a collar with tags and leash and any favorite toys or blankets and bedding.
New this year is the requirement to also have masks, hand sanitizer and gloves to last up to a week.
If you take prescription medication, make sure to bring your medicine bottles with you in case you need a refill after the storm passes.
Litschauer recommends preparing now for a storm, not waiting until one is almost here, warning that some storms can turn into major hurricanes in as little as three days.
“Three days is not enough time to prepare and make your decision,” he said. “That’s why we want you to be prepared now.”
Emergencies don’t stop for a hurricane, but residents should only dial 911 to report an immediate emergency, such as a fire, theft, medical emergency or other life-threatening situation. Keep in mind that during a storm event, fire and EMS staff will not be able to respond to an emergency once wind speeds are sustained at 45 mph or higher. Law enforcement officials are required to stop responding to emergencies once wind speeds are sustained at 55 mph or higher.
For general questions, to learn what shelters are open, to find a sandbag location or learn what evacuations have been announced, call 311. You also can use 311 to find out utility information or ask questions about Manatee County government.
Manatee County government and its various departments also can be found on social media. On Facebook, look for Manatee County Government. On Twitter and Instagram, follow @ManateeGov.
To receive emergency alerts to your phone, text “ManateeReady” to 888777 or visit www.mymanatee.org/emergency to sign up for Code Red.
Visit www.toinformfamiliesfirst.org to register your emergency contact information for first responders in case of an emergency or accident.
To view a recording of the June 22 town hall meeting, visit www.mymanatee.org/townhall.