Campus & Community

Florida’s top hurricane experts discuss how best to prepare for storm season during forum

From left to right: Jamie Molnar, FPL’s executive director of emergency preparedness; Mary Blakeney, Palm Beach County’s Emergency Management Director; Bryan Norcross, FOX Weather hurricane expert; Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s executive director of emergency management; Palm Beach Post weather reporter Kimberly Miller

With the 2024 hurricane season expected to be one of the most active on record, a panel of emergency managers and hurricane experts met at Palm Beach College’s Lake Worth campus on Wednesday, June 5, to discuss how best to prepare for the season.

The forum, which was organized by The Palm Beach Post and open to the public, covered what to do before, during and after a hurricane. The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs June 1st through November 30th, but storms can form before or after those dates. The peak of hurricane season, when the highest number and strongest storms usually form, is mid-August to mid-October. When asked what the most underrated hurricane danger is, Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s executive director of emergency management, had one word: Complacency.

He urged attendees to start preparing now. “Know your evacuation zone and know your home,” he cautioned. To find out where your nearest evacuation zone is, visit Floridadisaster.org. Click the know your zone map and enter your address. Florida residents most likely to be evacuated are those who live in low-lying, flood prone areas, mobile homes or any unsafe structures. If an evacuation order is not issued for your area and your house is not in an evacuation zone, Guthrie said, you may consider sheltering in place. But if you do, it is important to know your home and its ability to withstand strong winds and heavy rain.

The panelists urged attendees to stock up on supplies as soon as possible. With the first of two disaster preparedness sales tax holidays underway until June 14, it is a great time to buy. The following disaster preparation items can be purchased tax-free, including:

  • Water
  • Shelf-stable canned food
  • Batteries
  • Flashlights
  • Reusable ice
  • Pet items
  • Toys
  • Portable power banks and more

Other important items that are tax-free include:

  • Portable generators
  • Tarps or other waterproof sheeting
  • Smoke detectors and alarms
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • Portable radios less than $50
  • The sales tax holiday even includes pet with everything from leashes, beds, wet and dry food, and over-the-counter pet medications. For a full disaster supply kit checklist, visit FloridaDisaster.org/Kit.

What to do before a hurricane:

  • Make plans in advance to stay with family in friends west of I-95 in case of an evacuation order.
  • Make sure you have homeowners or renters’ insurance and contents insurance. Take photos of valuables and any receipts.
  • Stock up on batteries, battery powered lights, fans and radios. Buy enough food and water for seven days, more if you are in a rural area.
  • If you are buying a new radio, buy one that has high definition (HD) because in the event of a hurricane you can tune in to the public radio emergency network.
  • A few days before a hurricane is expected lien the bathtub with a plastic sheet and fill the tub three-quarters full with water that can be used to flush the toilet or wash. Fill zip lock bags with water and place in freezer to keep your refrigerator colder.
  • If you live in a home with shutters, practice putting them up. Get shutters in place 48 hours before storm is expected. If you don’t have shutters and need help boarding your home, many local non-profits or faith-based organizations offer assistance.
  • Always keep your car more than half full to avoid runs on gas stations.
  • Identify a safe place to park your car. Streets can flood.

The panelists noted that when a hurricane comes, residents need to be prepared for possible flooding. According to Tommy Strowd, Lake Worth Drainage District Executive Director who is responsible for maintaining the water supply for more than 800,000 Palm Beach County residents, it typically takes anywhere from two to three days to recover from flooding before people can leave their homes. “But if there are several feet of rain it is going to take significantly longer,” he said.

Flooding raises another risk for vehicles, especially electric ones. “An underappreciated hurricane issue is that everyone needs to have a plan for their cars,” said Bryan Norcross, the FOX weather hurricane expert who forecast of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. Electric vehicles react differently to floodwaters. Guthrie urged electric vehicle owners who are remaining at home during a hurricane to keep their vehicles less than 30% charged. He noted that after Hurricane Ian many electric vehicles spontaneously combusted from the intrusion of salt water into the battery. “When you have an electrical fire it releases a lot of hazardous materials into the air,” Guthrie said. “It is very, very lethal smoke.”

With power outages likely once a hurricane hits, Guthrie addressed the benefits of generators for those who can afford them. There are generators for the entire home, he said, as well as portable ones. If you are using portable ones: “Keep the generator 20 feet outside any open door or window,” Guthrie said. “It cannot be inside your garage; it be outside at least 20 feet away.

But if an evacuation order is issued, don’t ignore it, said Mary Blakeney, Palm Beach County’s Emergency Management Director urged attendees to heed any evacuation orders. “Usually, we evacuate because of the threat of wind, but any other evacuation or as we issue is due typically to our anticipated storm surge,” she said. “When we make that decision to issue evacuation orders, we want people to heed those warnings because there is a lot of research, data and information sharing that goes into that decision making.” Evacuate as soon as you get the orders. The worst place to be is on the road as a storm comes through, Blakeney said.

Lastly, if the worst happens and you have hurricane damage but no insurance, do not assume you can rely on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bail you out, Guthrie told the audience. “We have less than 5% of the state of Florida qualifies for maximum grant FEMA grant,” he said. “The average grant paid out by FEMA in a storm is $5,000.” He stressed the importance of insurance as the first line of defense. “Please make sure you’re really focusing on those things. If you can’t afford full blown coverage on your home because it’s just too expensive look at other alternatives like a contents policy,” he said.

Please see the streamed forum on YouTube.

 

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