PINELLAS COUNTY — Expect the best but prepare for the worst this hurricane season, because complacency could leave you without food, water or a place of refuge if a tropic storm approaches.
And as officials at the National Hurricane Center watch an organizing area of thunderstorms that could turn into the second tropical storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, Pinellas County officials urge that now is the time to get your emergency response plans in order.
During a showing of “Aging on the Suncoast” two emergency management professionals, Debbie Peck, coordinator with Pinellas County Emergency Management, and Jason Martino, emergency coordinating officer for the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas, discussed pitfalls seniors and others will confront if they fail to execute a plan well in advance of a storm warning or do not have a hurricane plan.
“The biggest concern we have in the community is complacency,” Martino said. “We have done a lot of work to try to curb people from being too complacent. People are not taking preparedness as seriously as we would like to see them do it. You have to have a plan. If you are an older adult and living alone you have to have a plan.”
Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Officials urge residents to prepare to ‘weather the storm’ by stocking up on emergency supplies and mapping out your evacuation route.
“We recommend that every time you go to the supermarket for the next few weeks, pick up a few dried, boxed, canned, bottled or jarred items from your hurricane shopping list,” Martino said. That will spread out the cost and keep you from having to shop for staples when a storm warning causes long lines and empty shelves.
Peck and Martino discussed areas of particular interest to seniors, such as: making evacuation plans, registering in advance for a special needs shelter, finding transportation to a shelter and how to obtain an emergency supply of medication.
“Having a well-thought-out plan will enable residents to respond quickly with less stress. An action plan is particularly important for senior residents who live alone, those who have special needs or anyone with a pet,” Martino said.
Officials also suggestion the following:
• Store enough supplies for 7 to 10 days, rather than 3 days.
• State law allows a person to stock up on certain prescribed medications such as blood pressure, heart and diabetes through their pharmacist.
• If you’re not evacuating, seal important papers in a gallon-size plastic bag and store in the dishwater to prevent documents from getting water damage.
• A storm shelter should be a place of last resort. Shelters are uncomfortable and evacuees will share floor space with hundreds of others. If you go to a shelter, bring a chair or comfortable mat, all your medicine, water and snacks.
• Residents with an illness or disability should register with the county for a space at a special needs shelter. The local firefighters will assist in transporting these residents to the shelter. There are no hospital beds or registered nurses at the shelters. Those who are oxygen-dependent should bring extra bottles. Dementia patients must have a care giver with them. Special needs patients are expected to being all their medicine with them.
• Pinellas has three pet friendly shelters: Oak Grove Middle School at 1370 S. Belcher Rd., in Clearwater, the Dunedin Middle School at 70 Patricia Ave., in Dunedin and Thurgood Marshall Middle School, 3901 22nd Ave. S., St. Petersburg. People must register their pet in advance to stay at the shelter in a storm. People should bring their own pet food, medication and proof that the pet has its required inoculations. Pets will be placed in a separate room with visitation permitted at certain times for walking and exercise.
To learn more, the Pinellas County Communications and the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas have produced a half-hour show that spotlights disaster preparedness for seniors and can be viewed on the Pinellas County Connection TV (Bright House 622 or Verizon 44) or online via YouTube: www.youtube.com/pcctv1.
A hurricane guide is available at most Walgreens.
Residents may also call the Citizen Information Center at (727) 464-3800 or visit www.pinellascounty.org/emergency.