Speaking at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center in Pensacola on Monday, Gov. Rick Scott told Floridians to be prepared and gather plans to deal with potential emergencies.
“With the 2014 hurricane season underway, I want to encourage every family to get a plan,” Scott said on Monday. “Preparing for the upcoming hurricane season should be a priority for every Florida family, and we must take action now before it’s too late. Families should include important phone numbers and contact information for members of your family, as well as information on where you will go if there is a need to evacuate so you can meet your family if separated. While it has been 10 years since the 2004 hurricane season where Florida was hit by four different storms, we know it only takes one to devastate a community.”
Scott also noted that there is a tax holiday on hurricane supplies until June 8. Under the holiday, batteries, flashlights, first-aid kits and other supplies would be covered for the first two weeks of June. Hurricane season starts June 1 and ends on Nov. 30.
Bryan Koon, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Floridians should learn local evaluation routes and storm surge zones.
“The Know Your Zone campaign encourages everyone to understand storm surge and evacuation zones,” said Koon. “Storm surge is a real danger, but it isn’t the only danger. Heed instructions from your local emergency officials when advised to evacuate. Even if you’re in an area that may not experience storm surge, you could be completely cut off from rescuers if you choose to stay.”
The leadership of the Florida National Guard said they were ready to take action in case of a major storm.
"Preparedness starts at home,” said Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw, Florida’s adjutant general. “Rest assured, however, that the Florida National Guard remains committed to our mission of protecting the lives and property of Florida citizens. We have more than 9,000 soldiers and airmen who have been trained for a wide range of life support, security and public safety tasks, and they are ready to respond when called upon by the governor."
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also urged Floridians to be prepared during hurricane season.
“Sunday officially marked the start of the 2014 hurricane season," said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard on Monday. “While the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the slowest we've seen, there were three significant weather events that impacted Florida, including Tropical Storm Andrea. From experience, we understand that taking precautions and being prepared is vital to protecting Florida and its residents."
“Preparing chemicals and waste, planning for the effects of a storm, and communicating with the state before and after a storm are crucial steps for protecting Florida’s environment when a storm makes landfall,” said Gwen Keenan, director of DEP’s Office of Emergency Response. “While we may not be able to prevent damage like beach erosion from heavy rain and wind, the spill of hazardous chemicals can largely be stopped before it happens.”
“Predictions for the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season indicate the likelihood of a slow season, with NOAA projecting a normal to below-normal activity this year,” Keenan added. “Eight to 13 tropical storms are predicted, with three to six of them expected to become hurricanes. As many as two of them could be major hurricanes. Despite that prediction, no one should be complacent. 1992 was projected to be a slow year, but Hurricane Andrew roared ashore proving it only takes one storm to severely impact our state."
But even as hurricane season begins this week, Florida TaxWatch offered a warning that the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. need major reformation if a major storm hits.
"As a part of the $500 million tax cut passed by (the) Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott this past session, Floridians will get three opportunities to shop tax-free this summer,” Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch said on Friday. “Beginning tomorrow and lasting until June 8th, taxpayers will save their hard-earned dollars on hurricane preparedness items thanks to the first sales tax holiday. This sales tax holiday is a great way to provide broad-based tax relief for consumers while promoting safety as we enter a potentially devastating hurricane season, which begins on June 1.
"Just as the Legislature has thoughtfully empowered Florida's citizens to better protect themselves against Mother Nature's fury before a storm, lawmakers must do something to ensure they are protected after a storm hits, too,” Calabro added. “Since the devastating hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, Floridians have been fortunate to avoid a direct hurricane hit. Unfortunately, we are still paying for the storms that hit our shores 10 years ago, through assessments on our insurance policies."
"As this hurricane preparedness sales tax goes into effect and we start the 2014 hurricane season, I ask not only the citizens of Florida to protect themselves from the coming storms, but also the state to protect its citizens from a potential fiscal nightmare,” Calabro said in conclusion.
Florida TaxWatch released a study on the Cat Fund and Citizens which can be read here.
Kevin Derby can be reached at email@example.com.