Hurricane Ian was a wake-up call for Pinellas County. Here at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office we watched the storm’s path and prepared for what we thought would be a disastrous landfall. For the general public, though, attitudes were mixed. Some people took the threat very seriously and prepared their homes or evacuated out of the storm’s anticipated path – which originally showed it making a direct hit on Pinellas County. Others, however, minimized the dangers and stayed put or did little in the way of preparation. Floridians can have a dangerously lackadaisical attitude about hurricanes, planning “hurricane parties” instead of evacuating. Here in Pinellas there is even a myth that we are supernaturally protected from major tropical storms by the Tocobaga Indian burial mounds located in Safety Harbor and elsewhere in the county. Pinellas has been lucky, but we must always remember that our luck could run out at any time. Ian’s devastation that happened just a little to the south of us is a demonstration of what could happen here and should be a warning for everyone this hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30.
Hurricane Ian approached southwest Florida as a massive Category 5 hurricane and hit Lee County on September 28th as a Category 4, with sustained winds of at least 155 miles per hour and gusts of 216 miles per hour. Despite mandatory evacuations, thousands were stranded by floodwaters, and 149 people died across Florida as a result of Hurricane Ian. More than 2.4 million people lost power, and financial losses are in the tens of billions of dollars. What if that had been us? It easily could have been.
The lesson from Ian is to always take hurricanes seriously. Pinellas County Emergency Management (www.pinellascounty.org/emergency) is your best local resource for hurricane preparedness. They publish an annual Hurricane Preparedness Guide that has updated evacuation zones as well as tips for what to do before, during, and after a hurricane strikes.
If you live on a barrier island, plan ahead and get your Emergency Access Permit now. During and immediately after the storm, the bridges to the barrier islands are closed until the area is safe. When the storm has passed and the evacuation order is lifted, only residents and business owners who have been issued a re-entry pass will be allowed to return to the islands. Deputies stationed at the nine re-entry points will scan the barcode and let the resident pass. Anyone without an access pass will be refused entry. Find out more at www.pcsoweb.com/EmergencyAccessPermit.
You can also sign up for Alert Pinellas, a free emergency notification system that delivers vital information to you by phone call, text, or email. It will send you alerts about severe weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or flooding, evacuation orders, boil water notices, and more. Visit www.pcsoweb.com/alert-pinellas to sign up.
It is important to remember that if you ignore an evacuation order, you may not have access to any emergency services during the storm because when conditions intensify it is too dangerous for emergency vehicles to be on the roads. County 911 operators have heartbreaking stories of people calling for heart attacks, injuries, or house fires during hurricanes, and having to tell them that no one can respond until the worst of the storm has passed. Don’t put yourselves or your loved ones in danger. Heed evacuation warnings and leave the area or go to a shelter before a hurricane strikes. With preparation, cooperation, and common sense we can be as safe as possible during and after a hurricane strikes.
Non Emergency Line: (727) 582-6200 | In an Emergency call 911ADA info