WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Even though Hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Michael slammed the Sunshine State the past three years, people are not motivated by a disaster until it comes to — or through — their front door, Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson warns.
"Nearly two-thirds of residents of Florida say they (were) taking precautions in advance of the 2018 hurricane season. Yet when we press them on those precautions that were taken, 56 percent of those who responded did not take any tangible pre-storm preparedness actions," Johnson said in a report by Florida Today.
"And recent studies also show that as many as 74 percent have not made a disaster kit. And 63 percent of Floridians do not have flood insurance — despite 71 percent saying that it's necessary to help them in their recovery efforts following a disaster," he said.
"I can spout a litany of statistics on the readiness of our communities, or lack thereof," he said.
Johnson stressed hurricane readiness Wednesday during the Governor's Hurricane Conference at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. The event comes one month after the National Hurricane Center upgraded Michael to a monstrous Category 5 storm, packing 160 mph winds upon landfall at Mexico Beach.
Michael was blamed for 16 direct deaths and about $25 billion in damages in the U.S. The Atlantic hurricane season kicks off June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30.
Attended by emergency management officials from 62 of the Sunshine State’s 67 counties, the 33rd annual event is the nation’s largest tropical cyclone conference, Palm Beach County Mayor Mack Bernard said.
Training sessions and workshops highlight best practices and lessons learned from past storms.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said President Donald Trump has supported additional federal funding to help the storm-battered Panhandle's slow recovery from Michael — but DeSantis said others in Trump’s administration were “dragging their feet at the lower levels because they didn’t necessarily want to do it.”
Sitting at a small table with black tablecloth on the conference stage, DeSantis signed House Bill 7123, which includes a seven-day hurricane preparedness sales tax holiday from May 31 to June 6, Florida Today reported.
Eligible supplies include batteries, lights, radios, tarps, ground anchoring systems, portable generators, fuel tanks, storage coolers and reusable ice.
The governor also announces activation of a $25 million loan program for farmers who suffered Michael-related crop losses.
“I think that people throughout the state are more battle-tested now. We didn’t want the storms, but that is a good thing looking forward. We’re going to be prepared and have some experience," DeSantis said.
"On the other hand, I think we could use a break for this summer. So I’m hoping that we have a very quiet and uneventful hurricane season,” he said.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said too many people dismiss oncoming storms as “Hurricane Justa” because it's "just a" Category 1 cyclone. During the past decade, he said U.S. Category 1 hurricanes have caused 175 direct deaths and inflicted $103 billion in damages.
Graham listed mistakes people make when deciding whether to evacuate:
- Declaring that a previous storm “wasn’t that bad.”
- Focusing too much on the forecast cone.
- Concentrating on wind speeds, though flooding causes the most deaths.
“We hear after every storm. You talk to one person: ‘Well, I didn’t know it was going to be this bad. I’ll never stay again.’ You drive a mile down the road: ‘Well, that wasn’t that bad. I’m never leaving again.’ Isn’t that true?" Graham asked.
"People’s perception of the risk changes every single time there’s a storm. There’s a huge need to make sure to educate, not just in April and May,” he said.
Joby Smith, Bay County Emergency Management chief, and Adam Johnson, Calhoun County Emergency Management interim director, received standing ovations from the audience after describing their agencies' efforts before, during and after Michael swept ashore, Florida Today reported.
“I can’t believe we’re almost into the new season,” Smith told the crowd.