Florida stands as model for storm preparation - FOX 13 News

Florida stands as model for storm preparation

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Many scientists think we are going to see more and more strong storms like Sandy in the future, thanks to changes in the global climate. That means more cities and states are going to follow Florida's lead in building smarter.

Problems like confused evacuation orders, fuel trapped in tanks because of a lack of electricity, and poorly distributed emergency supplies are issues New York and New Jersey are working through -- but they were dealt with long ago in Florida.

"You have people that don't have that hurricane experience and there were holes in their plan," said Pinellas Emergency Management Spokesman Tom Iovino. "We're hoping that they can see in hindsight what they need to do to correct their state statutes so that in the event that something else comes along, they don't have these problems again."

It has been 20 years since Hurricane Andrew proved the cost of inadequate building codes. New houses are much more wind-resistant and critical structures, such as St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital, are built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes.

The busy 2004 and 2005 tropical storm seasons brought more changes, such as requirements for generators at certain gas stations and mandatory early refills of prescription drugs. There have been cultural changes as well, exemplified by Publix and other businesses voluntarily installing generators.

"If the power goes off, they can start right up immediately and even serve as relief centers or get their product back out the door and even prevent the loss of some of their product," Iovino said.

There is also a variety of research underway at the University of South Florida. Dr. Daniel Yeh expects Florida's concerns are now shared up north.

"Very likely we're going to see storms happening in places they haven't occurred before," he predicted, noting the consensus in the scientific community that planet Earth is getting warmer and sea levels are rising.

"The conversation now is really shifting to the adaptation part," Yeh said, muting the debate over causes. "If the earth is acting erratic, and there are a number of things already happening, what can we do to adapt to that?"

Several years ago, Yeh and some of his students started studying efforts long-underway in the Netherlands. That nation's motivation was a devastating storm surge in 1953. Much of its coastline is now buffered environmentally with marshes and aggressively renourished beaches. Then there are man-made structures, including the world's largest movable structure guarding Europe's largest seaport.

"In the case of a storm surge event, (they can) close off the whole (Rhine) river and protect Rotterdam, the millions of people there, from the North Sea," Yeh said.

The researcher then noted conversations about similar defenses have now started in New York City. He claimed some of the issues were actually spelled out a scientific conference a few years ago, but no one paid much attention. Now they are.

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