Now that we’re back in hurricane season, Sarasota County is making some serious changes to its storm preparations.
Some mistakes last year led to mass confusion, so they’re hoping to prevent another mess.
As Hurricane Irma approached the Tampa Bay area, many panicked and rushed to Riverview High School in Sarasota.
It was listed as a possible shelter, but as we found, there were no plans to open it.
Hundreds of angry people were outside for hours, begging for help.
The county had only planned to open a few shelters at a time.
“We knew our procedures, we knew our capability, but we didn’t know how the public responded to that,” said Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane.
The next time a storm approaches, Sarasota County officials will open all shelters at once and they will all be pet-friendly.
But they will no longer be called “shelters.” Instead, they’re now “evacuation centers.”
The name change is a reminder that residents must bring their own bedding, food and water.
“The evacuation center is a lifeboat, not a cruise ship,” said McCrane. “The shelter I think brings up an image of a place for people to go where they have cots and blankets and pillows and three meals a day.”
Who could forget last year when residents dealt with debris for months?
To help rectify this, the county will hire more contractors and rent more trucks. But there’s only so much they can do.
“If we get another Irma track this year and it does the same thing, we may be in the same boat,” said McCrane.
Sarasota County will also provide buses to help people get to evacuation centers.
If people register ahead of time, they can get transportation from their homes if they don’t have a car.