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Officials fear storm complacency

Workshop presses for preparation

BY ADAM LINHARDT Citizen Staff
alinhardt@keysnews.com


National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knobb slapped his hand down on a lectern as he spoke before a swath of county and city business leaders Monday about the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season. 

“There’s no one — and I mean no one — who can reasonably tell you with any certainly whether a hurricane will make landfall in Florida this year,” Knobb said. 

He went so far to say that from an emergency management perspective that seasonal hurricane forecasts mean next to nothing, reiterating a National Weather Service maxim that they’ve been trending on social media — it only takes one. 

The message: Be prepared regardless of any forecasts. 

The Tropical Meteorology Project from Colorado State University predicts that the 2016 storm season will be average with a total of 13 named storms and six hurricanes, but officials Monday didn’t want the public to focus on that and instead begin preparing now. 

Knobb was speaking at the annual hurricane conference at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel that drew Florida Director of Emergency Management Bryan Koon, Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay, County Mayor Heather Carruthers, Key West Manager Jim Scholl, Key West National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Jon Rizzo, retiring County Emergency Management Director Irene Toner as well as incoming Emergency Management Director Marty Senterfitt among others. 

The conference is a sort of state-of-the-county meeting regarding readiness efforts for hurricane season that starts on June 1 and runs to Nov. 30. It’s been a decade since a hurricane landfall on Florida and officials said they fear a sense of complacency among the public. 

Knobb kicked things off with a presentation about some new graphics the hurricane center has been working on, one of which will be ready this year, and more that will be introduced next year. 

Most Keys residents are familiar with the National Weather Services’ cone of uncertainty maps that show a storm’s projected path, but this year the National Hurricane Center will be releasing new maps showing projected flooding, which are designed to encourage people to evacuate in trouble spots, Knobb said. 

By next year, local meteorologists will begin “painting” additional storm surge maps where flooding is of particular danger to human life, which will have a legend that will easily display how many feet each color indicates. 

Next year, the National Weather Center will be releasing graphics depicting wind arrival projections. In other words, the graphic will show how strong storms are expected to be by this time on this date and onward. 

Also next year, the National Weather Center will begin issuing potential depression/storm warnings prior to any major storm forming. 

Senterfitt spoke at length about the relationship that he will need to have with the public and the business community to effectively keep tourists and residents safe — a partnership that was reiterated by many of the speakers. It was likely the first time many in the audience heard from the new County Emergency Management Director. 

“I’m very conscious that tourism drives the economy in this community,” Senterfitt said. “For many of our workers, I understand an evacuation means they won’t be getting a paycheck that week and that many live paycheck to paycheck. I understand that many people don’t have the money to drive up to the mainland and stay in a hotel for a week.”

“I understand that hitting the huge red button (to evacuate) can be a huge detriment for many and anytime I ask for an evacuation, I’ve considered those things. But if there is a Category 3, Category 4 or higher coming at us, we’re pushing that button. Water doesn’t play.”

Senterfitt, 49, has worked for the City of Jacksonville for 28 years, starting as a firefighter and working his way up the ranks, serving as the director of Duval County Emergency Preparedness and fire chief of Jacksonville Fire and Rescue. 

As Director of Jacksonville Fire and Rescue, Senterfitt oversaw a $210 million budget and managed 1,300 employees. As Director of Emergency Preparedness, he was responsible for overseeing all emergency management functions, including preparedness, response, recovery, mitigation and Homeland Security.

Senterfitt has extensive disaster experience, including deployments to other states to represent the Florida Emergency Operations Center.

“If we don’t evacuate for a low-wind Category 1 storm, I need to have confidence in this business community to communicate with guests that now is not the time to go outside and feel the wind prior to them getting whacked by a hubcap flying by. Help me make sure our partnership continues to keep our workers and our visitors safe.”

For information on the storm season and preparations, visit http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/ready.php.