Hillsborough County upgrading shelters to better prepare for hurricanes

Hillsborough County

(Photo: Highlands County Board of County Commissioners)

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Hillsborough Emergency Management is working to improve some county shelters to prepare for major hurricanes and the potential for widespread power outages.

“There’s no way we can open a special needs shelter, or you really risk opening a special needs shelter, if you do not having guaranteed generator power if you lose electricity. Look what’s happening in Louisiana right now, how much power has been impacted,” said Iñaki Rezola with Hillsborough County Emergency Managment.

It’s not a situation anyone wants to be in.

“I think we’ve got other options with family that I’d look into before going to a shelter,” said one resident.

Unfortunately, when forced to evacuate for a hurricane, for some, a shelter is the only option.

“Many large, catastrophic storms, three days out, are just tropical storms,” said Rezola. “Literally we just have about 48 hours notice to get ready for what could be a devastating hit.”

That’s why county officials are urging residents to have a plan, and why they’re working to upgrade several shelters to prepare for widespread power outages.

“As an example, Strawberry Crest is a special needs shelter that every time we turn it on as a special needs shelter, we have to rent a very large generators and chillers, that in some cases, have to come all the way from North Carolina,” said Rezola. “We’re rushing the clock at that point to get a generator.”

Hillsborough County is now installing generators at four schools, Barrington Middle School, Benito Middle School, Burnett Middle School, and Strawberry Crest High School, to speed up the process of opening shelters when needed.

The shelter upgrades are part of an ongoing improvement project, according to Rezola.

Rezola said the county is also prepared to handle a second hurricane season during a pandemic and the county has plans to open more shelters if needed, to allow for social distancing.

Residents can expect a screening process, temperature checks, and must wear a mask, to help control the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ll be seeing how people are feeling. Now we have the ability to do some rapid tests if necessary, to really determine if someone needs to be in an isolation area. We have isolation areas in shelters now too,” said Rezola.

Officials stress shelters are a last resort and urge residents to have a plan to go with friends or family if evacuation orders are given.

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