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Date of Issue: September 22, 2005

Island Emergency Operations Committee lessons learned

The Island Emergency Operations Committee met Sept 14, and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, questioned if the three Island cities are as prepared to handle a hurricane as they think they are.

Every hurricane that makes landfall provides lessons to be learned, said West Manatee Fire and Rescue Chief Andy Price.

Watching Hurricane Katrina unfold prompted Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie to ask several hard-hitting questions at the meeting, all good points but none of which were really settled.

"I know how well prepared our city is," said Chappie. "I am confident we'll be able to work through challenges, but I'm not sure about the other cities. Learning from Katrina, I see how important that is at a local level."

Price said the cities should have a basic plan that is similar.

Yes, but Chappie noted that if you don't implement a plan or have personnel that are trained or understand they need to come in, what happens? The personnel needed to come in and deal with the disaster will need supplies and equipment, for example. And Chappie said this is a crucial time when the three cities could be better educating the public about how the Island would respond to a disaster.

"We have people who don't know the city compiles a special needs list of individuals who will need assistance evacuating," Chappie said. "People are listening now. It's a good opportunity to inform the public."

Price stated the cities will have to handle their own public education, "Are you doing what is necessary to prepare people? And the cities need to look at including training for their employees," he said.

Chappie added that Bradenton Beach has been working on building a surplus fund the past four years, knowing that when the Island is hit by a hurricane it will need funds in reserve so that the city can maintain service until a revenue base is rebuilt.

"Bradenton Beach is the smallest city and Anna Maria has the most money, what concerns me is how prepared the other cities are. We'll be sharing resources and all be in it together," he said.

Chappie and Price both noted that one of the real "eye-openers" in the aftermath of Katrina was the reaction from first-in service providers - police and firemen from the areas hit.

Hurricane Katrina exposed the human factor previously unaddressed. When your family is in jeopardy, where do priorities lie - family or job?

Price said one of the fire strike teams sent to the Gulf Coast put out a fire that was adjacent to a fire station. He said the fire station was full of volunteer firefighters, yet none of them responded to the fire.

"They had all lost their homes, which was why they were at the fire station," he said. "They were all mentally devastated from what they went through, and it made me question what we would do. What kind of department would we have and who would really show up?"

Chappie questioned "How would our staff fare and what is their responsibility to the community? What do we do if our staff is wiped out? We've always had a place for elected officials to go, but what about our staff? We need to take care of them so they can get back to our community. We need a plan to make sure they can take care of business."

Members of the committee noted that in the event of a total devastation of the Island, outside agencies would be coming in to address the situation. It's the smaller storms they feel they have to worry about.

Anna Maria Public Works Director George McKay noted that debris teams would likely be stretched to their limits and one of the basic things learned this season is that the cities can't rely on someone else to take care of problems. "We know help will be five to six days away," he said. "We know the state, county and government agencies are not coming in the next day and we need to rely on our own resources.

"I agree with Chappie that we need to be responsible for our own welfare, but we're going to have our own problems and may not have the personnel or resources to help the other cities," McKay said.

Price assured that from what he saw of the response to Hurricane Katrina, Florida is far more prepared and able to meet those needs. He said, as a whole, Florida is more advanced than the other Gulf Coast states and teams from Florida were first on the scene, mobilized with 300 trucks of water and ice before Katrina hit.

In one community, officials reportedly thought it could ride out the storm based on their experience with Hurricane Camille, and they failed to evacuate police and fire vehicles and lost them all.

Chappie said everyone would be dealing with personal tragedies in the event a storm hit the Island, and he hopes the Island cities will be prepared enough that "our minds go into automatic and we perform as we're trained to perform."