Usually hurricane expos are not scheduled only days before a hurricane makes landfall. Dorian made the hurricane expo at Pasco Hernando State College’s north campus quite a timely event on Aug. 29. According to the National Hurricane Center's 5pm Aug. 30 advisory, "Life threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane force winds are likely along portions of Florida's east coast by early next week..." The governor has declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties in Florida. Hernando County executive policy group has also declared a local state of emergency for the county.
During the event Cecilia Patella, Hernando County Emergency Operations Director explained that the statewide state of emergency grants the governor’s office the ability to enact certain funding streams and sets in motion the ability of municipalities to declare a local state of emergency. The local state of emergency will allow the county to implement protective measures and mobilize resources.
In addition to Patella, the Hurricane Expo featured lectures by Josh Linker Bay News 9 meteorologist, Dr. Brent Moore, a veterinarian; David Lambert, Manager of Member Relations for Withlacoochee Electric Cooperative (WREC) and Deputy James Dean with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.
Electricity is a hot topic with any impending major storm. Lambert said that WREC prepares for hurricane season year round. For the first three weeks of hurricane season they go over best practices and re-examine what worked and didn’t work during big storms like Irma in 2017.
He says that since Irma, they’ve put a lot more redundancy in the system as well as a detection method for where a tree may have fallen on a power line. They’ve also started clearing a lot more right-of-way from the lines as new state requirements call for 15 feet of clearance on each side of the power line.
One lesson learned from Irma is that they need to have more fuel on hand for their trucks. This time around they are prepared with ten days of fuel supply.
“No one ever expected a storm to go up the center of the state and then the entire state runs out of fuel,” Lambert said. Through working with Emergency Management, eventually they were able to get fuel shipped in from out of state.
In the last 5 years WREC has invested over $50 million in storm hardening, of coastal areas in particular, according to Lambert.
While they are making headway on the power line right-of-ways, WREC has added website features for reporting outages and monitoring the progression of power recovery efforts online through their SmartHub app. Lambert added that if customers don’t have internet access, then they can come over to the office as long as they are open. Their offices will operate normal business hours 8am-5pm with extended hours if necessary.
Their storm center is open 24-7 to handle phone calls. All hands are on deck, from accountants to mechanics, meter readers and of course linemen.
“We’re here to support the linemen as they’re restoring power,” said Lambert.
WREC has over 250 linemen, but for events like restoring power after a hurricane, linemen from other electric co-ops in the southeast will travel to the affected areas of Florida to assist in the efforts through mutual aid agreements. There are roughly 943 co-ops in the US.
WREC crews assisted in the panhandle for two months after hurricane Michael last year.
Lambert said that they also have agreements with contractors, specifically Pike Electric. They already have 100 contractors on system with the majority of them currently cutting right-of-ways.
He says that gives them an advantage prior to the storm, but one disadvantage is all of the rain we’ve had this summer (22 inches).
This increases the likelihood of flooding and trees falling.
With a slow moving category 2 hurricane, tree after tree will start dropping. “That’s where we’ll have a major issue,” said Lambert.
Lambert explained that shelters, transmission and substations, power plants, critical infrastructure, hospitals, wastewater treatment facilities take priority in power restoration. Each of the three hospitals in the county have backup diesel generators so the facilities can still function should they lose electricity. Lambert stated that after Irma, the backup generator at Bayfront in Brooksville ran for 5 days before power was restored.
Then restoration efforts move to schools, gas stations, grocery stores. After that WREC will begin restoring power to the largest populated areas and work their way out to the rural areas. He said that in the time it takes them to restore power to 5000 homes in Spring Hill, they may only restore power to 200 homes in a less densely populated area.
Lambert mentioned that the Walmart on 50 and the Walmart Distribution Center both have backup generators so that they can provide needed goods such as water to the area.
WREC has a fleet of about 10 boats as well as barges in order to restore power in flooded areas.
He mentioned that it takes a lot longer to restore power when lines are underground since they often have to remove debris and flooding is a bigger factor to consider.
He said that crews work 16 hour days and many of them have sustained damage to their own homes.
Linemen are highly trained. In order to work for WREC, there is a five year apprenticeship. There are 20 individual tests each year as well as a comprehensive exam. Linemen must score 90% or better or they don’t have a job.
“One mistake could kill someone,” said Lambert.
Lambert warned that it is imperative not to go within 30 feet of a down powerline and call in the incident immediately. “You can’t see electricity,” he said.
He also gave warnings specific to generator usage, as 5 individuals lost their lives during Irma due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Always operate a generator outside in a well ventilated area.
Generators can also be extremely dangerous for linemen and others, if it is hooked up directly to the home’s electric panel and does not go through a transfer switch. This practice is called backfeeding and it is an illegal practice which could result in the death of linemen working on the line, anyone near the line or generator as well as the destruction of your home.
Lambert commented that the community really came together after Irma. Logistically, WREC has to consider where to house all of the line crews along with food and water.
“The community, bar none rose to the occasion,” said Lambert. He explained that Sonny's BBQ sent food to feed all of their linemen, community organizations, individual members and other local restaurants did everything they could to help support WREC as they worked to restore power.
“That was just fantastic.”
“Our prayer is that Dorian doesn’t come here, but if not, we are going to be prepared as we can be,” said Lambert.
Preparing with Pets
Veterinarian Brent Moore provided advice on how to best prepare your pets for a major storm. He discussed the standard house pets like dogs, cats, and pocket pets (like hamsters and guinea pigs) as well as horses, cattle and reptiles.
He says, “What you do for yourself, do for your pets.”
He also spoke about service animals and emotional support animals.
Major points are that you need to have vaccination records on hand. The most important vaccine is rabies. When you arrive at a pet friendly shelter, that is something they will need to see. Service animals are welcome at all shelters, but you will need to provide the vaccine records as well as the service animal documentation. He said the service animal is allowed to go anywhere you go in the shelter. However, if your service animal is disruptive in any way, then they can tell you that the service animal must leave.
Dr. Moore said Emotional support pets are not considered service animals under the ADA, and can be turned away from shelters that do not allow pets.
He also reviewed what type of pets are welcome at pet-friendly shelters according to FEMA regulations based on their definitions.
FEMA defines household pet as "A domesticated animal such as a dog, bird, rabbit, rodent or turtle that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes, can travel in commercial carriers or be housed in temporary facilities. Household pets do not include reptiles (except turtles), amphibians, fish, insects, arachnids, farm animals (including horses) and animals kept for racing purposes."
Congregate Household Pet Shelters are "Any private or public facility that provides refuge to rescued household pets and the household pets of shelterees in response to a declared major disaster or emergency."
Dr. Moore recommends that your pets have a microchip. He advised that if your pet has a microchip, you need to make sure that it is registered in your name with the microchip company. It is tragic when a pet is recovered, but the microchip is registered to no one.
For stress relief, Dr. Moore recommends Adaptil spray for dogs and Comfort Zone spray or wipes for cats.
He provided the following issues to consider for each animal type mentioned above.
Make sure they have collars, with up-to-date tags and information
If microchipped, make sure that information is current with microchip company
Pet friendly dishes for food and water
Extra collar/harness and leashes and toys
7 days worth of food and water
Vaccine records, especially rabies
Disposable garbage bags for cleanup
Carrier or crate
Disposable litter boxes and scoop-able litter
Food and water bowls
7 days worth of food and water
Vaccine records, especially rabies
Disposable garbage bags for cleanup
Carrier or crate
Transportation in secure carriers with bedding materials, food and food bowl
Water and watering dishes (bottle, bowl)
Salt lick, extra water, small hidebox or tube
Weeks worth of bedding, food and water
Transportation in a secure cage or carrier
Have a blanket to cover the cage/carrier
Spray bottle to moisten feathers if warm weather
Have photos and/or leg bands
If the carrier has no perch, have paper towels so the floor can be changed frequently
Consider a timed feeder
Catch net, heavy towel/blanket/sheet, cage liner
Identification - tags, microchips, paint, etc
Evacuate whenever possible, as soon as possible .. Map out primary and secondary
routes well in advance
Ensure destination has food/water/supplies
Make sure experienced handlers are available
If evacuation is not possible - considerations for shelter (if available) or when to turn them outside.
Snakes can be transported in pillowcases, but a more secure housing should be available for onsite housing
Sturdy bowl for pets to soak in
Heating pad or other warming devices (but use caution)
Lizards can be transported like birds
ASPCA mobile app (Apple and Android)
Heed the warnings
The focus of Emergency Management Director Cecillia Patella and Deputy James Dean was on urging residents to heed the warnings of the local advisories, such as evacuation orders. Dean said that law enforcement will not respond after sustained winds become above 40mph.
You can stay up to date with the latest advisories at:
Emergency Management Recommended Actions:
Register to receive weather alerts at www.AlertHernando.org
Residents should review emergency plans and refresh emergency supply kits. For more information, visit www.HernandoCounty.us/EM
Residents living in low lying, flood prone areas are urged to closely monitor and take precautions as needed to protect life and property. Be prepared to evacuate to higher ground if necessary.
Do not drive through standing water. Turn around, don't drown.
Mariners should note the potential for hazardous boating conditions in the Gulf of Mexico next week and monitor alerts from the National Weather Service.
Monitor river gauges at http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/index.php?wfo=tbw
Monitor National Hurricane Center at www.nhc.noaa.gov
Monitor National Weather Service at www.Weather.gov/TBW
Monitor the Hernando County Government Facebook @HernandoCoGov and www.HernandoCounty.us/EM for latest information.
PUBLIC INFORMATION CENTER (PIC): (352) 754-4083 or (352) 754-4111 (Recorded)