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Pasco emergency officials brace for 2014 hurricane season


Even before the hurricane season officially started Sunday, storms pounded central and east Pasco last week, tearing the roof off a mobile home and knocking down trees.

“It only takes one” storm to devastate the life of a resident, Annette Doying remarked as Pasco County’s emergency management director.

With predictions of a relatively mild hurricane season, complacency could remain the top problem for emergency managers should an evacuation become necessary. An El Nino wind pattern discourages formation of hurricanes.

Pasco officials last week unveiled the strategy to deal with the 2014 hurricane season that extends through Nov. 1.

A new mapping system should project areas of flooding with greater accuracy, Doying said during the media day presentation last week.

Pasco intends to monitor social media messages during emergencies to debunk, clarify or confirm tweets and Facebook posts, according to Pasco County public Information Officer Doug Tobin.

Officials then might send out a county tweet or message with an official Pasco logo so that residents can separate facts from rumors.

“The comprehension skills decrease for people as they develop more stress, so keep that in mind,” Tobin commented about a study by Robert Chandler, an expert on crisis and risk communication at the University of Central Florida. Reading skills decrease to about a sixth-grade level. People start tuning out audio messages after 30 seconds.

Doying said her office is focusing on getting people out of harm’s way and provide safe harbor for emergency responders during the brunt of a storm. Drowning remains the highest risk from storm surge.

National Hurricane System has brought out new storm surge risk maps, Doying emphasized. The system will use specific data from a storm two days away approaching land, she added, rather then generalized data from all previous storms.

“We over-communicated to people (in the past) that you’re all at risk and that you should all run in terror, flee and hide from storm surge,” Doying remarked.

“It creates a problem because too many people are told to go and not all those people are affected,” Doying added about the old system. Traffic clogged roads. “The message became muddied.” People tend to discount the next emergency alert when another storm approaches.

The new flooding risk maps should “communicate the realities on the ground,” Doying said. “We’ll ask the right people to leave at the right time about two days ahead of time.”

The county will emphasize that residents should just travel east of Little Road. They don’t need to travel as far as Polk County or Orange County as some drivers did in previous evacuations.

Meanwhile, amateur radios often become the last line of defense to broadcast messages during a storm should winds knock down other communication towers. The Emergency Operations Center reserves space for ham radio operators.

Mentro even showed his handmade ham radio antenna made out of four Slinky toys.

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