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Pinellas leaders prep for hurricane season, enhance emergency communications

Pinellas County Emergency Management
Posted at 3:47 PM, May 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 05:43:07-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Florida’s hurricane season starts June 1 and Pinellas County Emergency Management leaders are putting severe storm preparations onto the fast track.

Emergency leaders know a severe storm could be all it takes to wipe out cell phone towers. That’s why the crews are planning ahead.

On Tuesday, they tested out a handful of deployable communication units that would be sent out after a hurricane. The units ensure that even if cell phone towers are down, there will be back up cell phone, internet and radio service after a storm.

Clayton Parrott, who works for Pinellas County’s Emergency Management team, said the county is one of only a few places in the state to have their own portable cell towers which can provide critical communication between the emergency operations center, hurricane shelters and municipalities.

Pinellas County Emergency Management

“Do they need more cots? Do they need more water? Do they need more food? Yes, it’s important but it’s not an emergency," he said. "It’s not a life-or-death type situation so it offloads those type of critical items to where 911 can take care of that and we can take care of the lesser emergency type items."

Crews spent hours Tuesday working out the kinks as part of a week-long hurricane simulation and training event.

Pinellas Co. is also getting ready to put out new hurricane guides and will soon launch an updated Ready Pinellas mobile app which will serve as a primary place where residents can get all the information they need to prepare for a storm and emergency notifications during severe weather. Pinellas County Emergency Management Director Cathie Perkins said residents should pay attention to one item in particular: Evacuation zones. Some areas will see new evacuation zones.

“There was a new model put out by the national hurricane center and we have better elevation data than we used to so unfortunately we do see more households at risk for storm surge this season,” Perkins said.

Loosened COVID-19 restrictions are also having an impact on hurricane planning. With fewer social distancing rules, Pinellas County leaders are able to bring back the normal number of shelters and normal amount of square footage per person this year—if needed.

County leaders say it’s also the perfect time to prepare and budget for your hurricane kit as inflation is driving up the cost of many supplies. Perkins says it’s never too early to prepare.

“Unfortunately, crossing your fingers and hoping doesn’t help. We saw the forecast and they are talking about a busy hurricane season, but I always tell people don’t panic about the numbers," she said. "You just need to focus on the ones that impact you and if you have your plans in place and you’re ready, you’ll be okay."