Seminole County 1st responders hold drill ahead of hurricane season

Local agencies know they need to prepare for the worst, Emergency Manager Alan Harris says

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Getting ready for hurricane season means more than just making plans for your own home. It also includes first responders practicing what they need to do.

In Seminole County, that means a drill at the Emergency Operations Center so local agencies can run through what calls could come in and what coordination is needed when a storm hits.

“We know it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and we need to be prepared for the worst,” Seminole County Emergency Manager Alan Harris said.

You don’t have to imagine what it’s like, even without the worst-case scenario. Hurricane Ian flooded homes and streets for weeks in areas along the St. Johns River, Little Wekiva River, Lake Harney, and Lake Jesup.

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Harris said the county is still helping families who are living in trailers and staying at hotels eight months later.

News 6 asked Harris about the key takeaways from Ian ahead of another hurricane season.

“No. 1 is every hurricane is different, and we heard this a lot, ‘I went through Irma.’ Well, Irma and Ian were vastly different storms,” Harris said. “Little wobbles matter. That’s a key thing we learned. Just a little bit of an adjustment in the forecast can mean the difference between a direct hit and slight miss.”

The county is working on mitigation efforts near Lake Harney and other flood-prone areas. This includes stormwater improvements at Mullet Lake and other home projects.

“We are looking at some mitigation projects at homes, but those aren’t fast projects. So, the FEMA applications are just going in now for those projects,” Harris said. “In some cases, those may be elevation projects where the homes will be elevated and in some cases, they are buyouts.”

Harris said county officials are also adding special needs equipment for emergency shelters.

“We’ll be able to produce our own oxygen for oxygen tanks for special needs clients and our most vulnerable clients. We are one of only two counties in the state of Florida to have this asset,” he said.

Seminole County Fire Chief Matt Kinley said the county will have two new vehicles arriving this summer that will be better equipped for high-water rescues. The Board of County Commissioners recently approved roughly half a million dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the purchase.

“The new vehicles will be able to go up to 50 inches of water,” Kinley said. “It also features a new lift gate on the back. That’s one thing we learned in the past hurricanes is that we’re coming out to citizens in wheelchairs, and it is very difficult to get people into high-water vehicles.”

The hurricane drill held Wednesday is one of five exercises the county has planned as they boost awareness ahead of the hurricane season. They are also encouraging the public to do their part as well.

“Now is the time to prepare,” Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said. “Run that generator. Become familiar with a chainsaw. Know what your plan is.”

For more information on disaster preparedness and response from Seminole County, click here.

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Catherine, born and raised in Central Florida, joined News 6 in April 2022.