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Date of Issue: February 17, 2010

Island reps attend emergency response course

Four Island representatives were among a group of Manatee County staff, elected officials and community leaders who completed a recent weeklong Federal Emergency Management Agency emergency-response course.

Mayor Fran Barford, finance director Diane Percycoe and building department director Bob Welch represented Anna Maria. Holmes Beach Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens also attended the long-term recovery training at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md.

What made the course unique was that it helped the group prepare for challenges the county could face following a Category 4 hurricane.

According to a computer simulation at the training, a hurricane crossing through the mouth of Tampa Bay and passing over Egmont Key, would produce 137-mph winds on the Island and inland winds to 180 mph. Welch said the tidal surge would be 10-20 feet. “The Island would be gone,” he said.

Topics covered included debris removal, public mental health, service restoration, community redevelopment and housing solutions.

Representatives from Tropicana, Bealls, Port Manatee, U.S. Coast Guard, area health departments, hospitals, schools and the Florida Division of Emergency Management also attended.

“Someone from the health department said they could set up tent hospitals for any types of surgeries and such, so everybody got together in one room” to listen, Haas-Martens said. “There was cohesion, and now we know.”

They know, for example, that the first order of business following a disaster would be to restore whichever bridge has the least damage to connect the Island to the mainland.

Then workers would bring in housing, medical and social service workers to assist those in need. Temporary housing would then stabilize the population. That’s when 10-20 year long-term recovery planning would come into effect.

The beauty of the workshop, said the Island representatives, is that many post-disaster decisions are made in advance, although some would depend on variables associated with the particular event. But time saved on post-disaster planning could save lives.

Another question concerned how Anna Maria Elementary School would be rebuilt if destroyed. Barford said the likely scenario would be to bring back a more sustainable school.

Likewise, questions arose at the meeting if Manatee Memorial Hospital would be rebuilt along the Manatee River, another flood-vulnerable location.

FEMA Instructors praised the thoroughness of Manatee County’s emergency preparedness and response plans, according to a Manatee County news release.

“We have a lot of work to do,” county administrator Ed Hunzeker said in the release. “A lot of challenges face us as a group. We need to engage more people and continue the journey of building an exhaustive emergency response and recovery plan.”

To learn more about Manatee County’s Post Disaster Recovery Plan, visit www.mymanatee.org, click on the planning development link at the bottom of the page and locate the PDRP selection on the menu to the left.