Be Prepared This Hurricane Season



On Jan. 17, a tornado touched down on Siesta Key and ripped through Sarasota County, leaving behind a path of destruction and causing two fatalities in neighboring Manatee County.

The storm’s extensive damage and the unfortunate loss of life was a powerful reminder of the need to be prepared. Many of us were awakened early that morning by weather alerts received via cellphone; many others missed the warnings entirely, or when they did hear them, weren’t quite sure how to respond or what they would do had the storm landed in their backyard.

Another hurricane season begins today, and while hurricanes typically come with much more advanced warning than a quick-striking tornado, they can present the same issues for public safety. With so many years having passed since the last hurricane to impact the Suncoast, and with so many new residents unfamiliar with hurricanes having moved to our community since then, complacency and unpreparedness are to be expected.

One way to combat those issues is by first ensuring that everyone is alerted of potentially dangerous weather. Sarasota County recently added a Weather Warning feature to its CodeRed system, which allows subscribers to receive calls, email alerts or text messages in the event of an emergency that could impact your neighborhood or business. The Weather Warning feature will automatically notify those registered of tornadoes, flash floods, severe thunderstorms and other weather warnings just minutes after an alert is issued by the National Weather Service.

CodeRED Weather Warning is an opt-in only service that is available for free by visiting and clicking the CodeRED banner. For more information, call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000 and ask about CodeRED registration.

One other simple way citizens can prepare for hurricane season is to visit and find out which evacuation zone they live in. Click on the “Evacuation Zones” link under Emergency Services at the bottom of the page. When the map appears, type your home address in the search box. As a storm approaches, Sarasota County Emergency Management will issue evacuation orders by zone, depending on the intensity of the storm and the expected height of storm tide.

Individual and family planning is also critical. The county plays an important role in responding to disaster, but if a major storm impacts our area, residents should prepare to be without basics such as food, water or power for up to 72 hours. Find more information and tips in the 2016 Disaster Planning Guide, available on the county’s website or at your local library, the county’s Emergency Operations Center or the Sarasota County Administration Center at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in Sarasota.

Sarasota County is doing its part to prepare for this year’s storm season. We recently hosted a day-long exercise at our state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center that involved not just our Emergency Management team but also representatives of all the county’s departments, as well as our cities and other regional and state partners. This in-depth training exercise allowed us to respond to a fictional “Hurricane Buck” and its aftermath, including all the various unforeseen scenarios that could unfold in a real disaster.

We have in-depth plans and procedures already in place for disaster response and recovery, but this was a great opportunity for us to train and test our team as we continue building our skills, partnerships and strategic-level decision-making. Sarasota County’s ability to respond and recover from not just hurricanes, but any disaster, is predicated on having excellent people, an informed public, tested plans and partnerships that come together during an event and place the community first.

Thomas A. Harmer is the Sarasota County Administrator.

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