Be prepared for worst, weather experts say
By Donna Kelly
News Chief staff
WINTER HAVEN – Mindful of the upcoming five-year anniversary of the 2004 triple hurricanes – Charley, Jeanne and Frances – businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies are doing their share to help local residents prepare for Monday’s arrival of the 2009 hurricane season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts a "near-normal" hurricane season for the U.S. Atlantic states. But it also predicts nine to 14 named storms – with four to seven having the potential of becoming hurricanes. Of these, one to three could become category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes.
Phil Attinger, the public relations director of the Polk County Chapter of the American Red Cross, said being prepared is the key to staying safe during hurricane season – or any other disaster.
"Get a (disaster supply kit), make a plan and be informed," Attinger said, "I challenge people to just calmly but consistently prepare for that next storm."
Attinger will be among a number of speakers – television meteorologists, emergency services professional and medical specialists -presenting information and answering questions during the 2009 Polk County Hurricane Expo, scheduled Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Winter Haven’s Orange Dome, 100 Cypress Gardens Blvd.
The event will include various workshops, including sessions on generator and power tool safety, exhibits and children’s activities.
But hurricane safety information is available from various sources.
The Alzheimer’s Association-Florida Gulf Coast Chapter offers tips for everyone preparing for the storm season, especially those who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease.
"Floridians who remember the 2004 hurricane season know how a hurricane’s destructive force can leave people homeless, stranded in shelters or at home for days," Gloria Smith, the president and CEO of the chapter, said in a press release. "In addition to the standard activities everyone should take to prepare for a hurricane, the Alzheimer’s Association encourages caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s to take additional steps and to start preparing now."
Information found at www.alz.org/FlGulfCoast ranges from a list of advance preparations – such as learning the disaster plan of the facility where the family member lives, preregistering at a special-needs shelter and keeping medications in a safe place – to a list of items to put in an emergency kit to suggestions for a safe evacuation. The site provides links to updated evacuation information; shelters, including special needs and pet-friendly shelters; storm updates; and other guides.
A visit to the State Emergency Response Team Web site, www.floridadisaster.org, will enable families to create a customized disaster plan.
"It only takes five minutes and it prints out in great order," said Linda Scialo, director of programs and services for the Polk County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Scialo used the Web site to create her own family disaster plan.
The plan tells families how much water to keep on hand, what to do with pets, emergency numbers to keep handy and other important information.
Florida’s Public Service Commission provides two applications on its Web site, www.psc.state.fl.us, designed to help families prepare for storms. Parents can take an interactive tour through the Hurricane House with their children by clicking on each room or item to learn 19 ways to prepare for severe weather, including how to store fresh water and deal with downed power lines. And hurricane preparedness workshops related to participating utilities are found by clicking on Hot Topics at www.psc.state.fl.us/utilities/electricgas/stormworkshop/default.aspx.
The Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters wants folks to know that hurricane preparation for the home starts before the first purchase of bottled water and batteries.
"The time to prepare for a storm is long before it forms and preparation demands not just protecting your home or business from damage but identifying what you should do if damage occurs," said Bill Coffman, president of FAPIA, in a press release. "If your property suffers damage, you need to have all necessary information and resources in place as you deal with your insurance company."
The FAPIA recommends a five-step plan to follow before disaster strikes.
Using a digital camera or video recorder, document the condition of your home and belongings to establish your claim in case of a loss.
Place the following in a safe deposit box: Copies of insurance policies, family medical information such as prescriptions and physician names, deeds and wills.
Review insurance coverage before hurricane season to see if it covers flood or wind damage and recognizes the current market value of your home.
Print out information for several public adjusters in your area. These are found on the FAPIA Web site at www.fapia.net.
Back up all computer files on your personal and business computers before the storm arrives and store it in a safe place.
Lowe’s offers a variety of hurricane-related information both in the store and online, including tips and information on hurricane preparation – installing window protection and securing tarps – and hurricane recovery, including flood cleanup. The company also provides tips on generator, chainsaw and cleaning product safety.
Severe weather guides are available online at www.lowes.com.
Like many retail stores, Winn-Dixie Stores are stocking up on hurricane basics, including items found on the Red Cross emergency kit list – bottled water, canned and non-perishable foods, paper products, flashlights and batteries.
Winn Dixie also is selling the Oregon Scientific Weather Radio for $19.99 in all of its Florida stores.
And the grocery store chain is following the advice of experts and preparing in advance by equipping its regional centers in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Hammond, La., as well as 82 stores, with diesel-powered generators.
"The installation of these powerful generators will allow us to be better prepared and serve our customers in the event of a storm," said Robin Miller, director of communications for Winn-Dixie. "They will enable our stores to remain open and functional in the aftermath of a hurricane or tropical storm, even if local power has not been restored."