SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – As we near the end of hurricane season, its never too early to prepare for the next storm.
Sarasota County just got a big grant to upgrade its evacuation centers, and its meant to address some big issues that arose during Hurricane Irma.
In 2017 as Hurricane Irma inched toward Florida, many panicked and rushed to their nearest shelters.
But hundreds were stunned to learn many listed facilities were not open and other shelters did not accept pets. It left many evacuees frustrated and frightened.
“Irma was unique in the history of Sarasota county we never sheltered more than 3,000 or 4,000 people and a couple hundred pets. During Irma we had 20,000 people and we had 3,000 pets,” said Ed McCrane, Emergency Management Chief.
Emergency officials learned more shelters were desperately needed and changes needed to be made.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management has given Sarasota County schools a $1,057,700 grant to upgrade three schools that serve as shelters- Fruitville Elementary School, Gulf Gate Elementary School, and North Port High School.
The District will replace and install impact windows, wind impact screens, mesh debris barrier systems and improved roof and drainage systems.
New windows will be added in and new improvements will be done throughout the campuses to protect the occupants from wind.
“As buildings age, some of their components, their structures can become vulnerable,” said Jody Dumas, Interim COO of Sarasota County Schools.
The grant will also be used to upgrade and add Taylor Ranch Elementary School as a shelter.
This will be the 12th general population hurricane evacuation center in the county. This grant calls for an engineer to assess and make structural recommendations.
The upgrades to Taylor Ranch Elementary will add space for approximately 1,280 evacuees in the event of a high-impact hurricane.
This will help serve people in the southern region of Sarasota County.
“One of the things that we learned during Irma is that in mid-county we really needed some additional shelters available,” said Dumas.
“South county particularly, because of that low elevation, there’s very few places for Venice and Englewood to shelter, they have to go to North Port or the north county, so every opportunity we can get in the south we want to continue to increase that shelter space,” said McCrane.
Also from now on, all evacuation centers will open at once. They will also all be pet-friendly.
County officials discovered some shortcomings during Hurricane Irma, and they hope to never repeat them.