On the watch for storms – Sarasota and Charlotte county officials remain vigilant

FEMA Chart

IMAGE PROVIDED The data from FEMA shows emergency declarations by state from 1974 – 2011 taken from the CRS report on disaster thresholds on August 31, 2012.

ENGLEWOOD — A recent Harris Interactive survey says 55 percent of U.S. families are not prepared to handle an emergency situation. Floridians are all too familiar with dealing with emergencies, especially during the hurricane season.

‘I think Florida is not where I like it to be, but it’s markedly better than that,’ Charlotte County Emergency Management Director Wayne Sallade said.

People were erring on the side of caution when it came to Tropical Storm Isaac.

‘When the forecast said at the time Isaac was a real threat to us, I saw more people pulling stuff out of the stores than I can remember from just about any storm in my 25 years,’ Sallade said. ‘So at least we’re taking it seriously. A lot of that comes from Hurricane Charley.’

The process is cyclical, as a number of seniors left during the 2004 to 2005 hurricane season when numerous storms bombarded Florida.

‘We had a significant number of seniors who left this region,’ Sallade said. ‘Our median age population actually dropped considerably for a couple of years, with the young people who came in and rebuilt the community after 11,000 homes were destroyed. When the economy fell off the table, they all left and a whole new wave of retirees came back.’

Sarasota County saw a similar cautious approach to Isaac.

‘It’s a continuous process. We can never stop preaching the message and talking to people about being prepared, because the next year we could be hit by a major storm,’ Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane said.

While storm activity has not topped the level of 2004 and 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security are considering some changes to disaster management for Florida.

‘Well, it looks like after this year, the threshold for damages is probably going to go up,’ McCrane said. ‘We’ve just heard talk, nothing solid in writing yet. We heard talk that’s going to pick a higher damage level to justify a residential declaration. So they thought after Isaac and Debby that maybe the thresholds are too low. It doesn’t look like our area is going to get any reimbursement at all from Tropical Storm Isaac, but we did get declared for Debby.’

McCrane said he will be meeting with other emergency directors from other counties in late October to discuss more in depth about the thresholds, but nothing is definitive.

Pat Bieneman, manager of Coldwell Banker Sunstar Realty and director of the Englewood Area Board of Realtors, tries to get her clients to buy flood insurance when buying a home.

‘Most of this county is in a flood zone,’ Bieneman said. ‘If there’s a loan out on the house, they have to get the flood (insurance), and that’s just part of the deal. If they’re a cash buyer, we definitely are letting them know that they’re in a flood zone and they should definitely consider it. I don’t think anybody can go without it.’

Bieneman says as long as homes are equipped with the latest in hurricane protection, such as impact glass and hurricane shutters, flood and wind insurance rates should be relatively low.

‘There are all sorts of emergencies that can happen,’ McCrane said. ‘People need to have a plan on how they’re going to deal with it. We’ve had wildfires in neighborhoods before on the east side of the county.’

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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