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With storm season around the corner, Governor's Hurricane Conference urges preparation

Posted at 8:10 PM, May 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-15 20:10:41-04

It only takes one. That's the phrase echoing in the minds of those working to protect you from a hurricane.

This week, hundreds of scientists, meteorologists and emergency management officials from across the state, country and even world are meeting in Palm Beach County for the 31st Annual Governor's Hurricane Conference.

Hurricane Matthew was certainly a lesson maker for everyone.

"Hurricane Matthew was certainly the closest call for South Florida since hurricane Wilma in 2005," said Robert Molleda, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Miami. "We had to dust off our hurricane plans. We had to implement them, put them in place. We had hurricane warnings in effect. It was a real close call."

This week's conference is sharing best practices, what worked well during Hurricane Matthew, and what needs improvement as hurricane season kicks off on June 1.

Looking ahead, Molleda said this season's weather pattern is trending toward El Nino.

"Typically when El Nino is present during hurricane season, that tends to lower or limit the number of overall storms that form in the Atlantic basin," he said.

But El Nino doesn't guarantee we won't get hit. NWS does have some new tools this year to help prepare, including better storm surge watches and warnings.

"A specific storm surge warning," explained Molleda. "And this is a warning that is targeted to coastal areas that are at risk or danger of being impacted by life-threatening inundation."

Those advancements in weather prediction technology is helping local emergency management officials better know which areas should be evacuated.

"Because of the new data that we have from the national hurricane center, we can pinpoint the areas of surge that will be the highest," said Bill Johnson, director of Palm Beach County Emergency Management.

Palm beach county EOC hopes that new tech will help people heed the warnings.

"We've been spending every year rewriting our plans, exercising them, practicing," said Johnson.

Hurricane Matthew was the closest call for South Florida in over 10 years, which may have caused complacency.

"The community was a bit slow to respond to our evacuation order," said Johnson. "I think some of that might be due to the ten year drought."

Another lesson learned from Hurricane Matthew involved the phone lines. Last year, countless people couldn't get through to the county's emergency hotline and WPTV was slammed with dozens of calls from concerned viewers. Johnson said upgrades have been made to beef up the phone system.

"From an analog system to a digital system," he said. "And we believe that system has the capacity to handle the additional calls that we received during Matthew."

While emergency management officials and the state prepare for the hurricane season, they are also stressing families to create their own disaster plan.

"Disaster preparedness starts with the individual," said Chuck Hagan, who oversees logistics for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "Matthew was a paralleling storm, it was very hard to forecast because you didn't know where it was going to come come in at."

No matter what happens this year, he walked us through expert advice on what families need to be thinking about when creating a hurricane emergency plan.

"Do I have bottled water in case of water pressure? Do I have food that doesn't require electricity to prepare?" said Hagan.

He suggested establishing a meeting site in case family members get separated. Figure out where you can go -- whether it be a family or friends house -- in the event that you are under an evacuation order.

Click here to craft your own plan for your family or business.

You should also making a list of the essentials you need to grab before you evacuate.

"Want to make sure I take the family album, what's in the safe at home -- the birth certificates and things like that," Hagan said.

During the entire hurricane season, make sure you have enough fuel in your tank.

"Try not to let the tank get below half. That way, if you're having to leave quickly you can get away from the danger area and not have to search for a gas station," said Hagan.

When and if there is a hurricane, double-check if whether or not you actually need to evacuate. Officials are working on better forecast models and evacuation systems so that the right areas are evacuated.

"We've seen people over-evacuate. And the problem with that is it puts too many people on the interstate and now they are driving 5 mph. And you have a clogged interstate system, which puts people at risk," said Hagan.

Finally, pack an emergency bag filled with supplies for up to three days.

"If you have infants, enough formula, pampers, any medications that they might need," said Carlos Castillo, a regional disaster officer for the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross walked us through what you need:

  • Emergency blanket
  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Extra batteries
  • Rain poncho
  • Drinking water
  • First aid kit
  • Gloves
  • Non-perishable foods
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, tissues, etc.)
  • Copies of personal documents (passports, driver's license, birth certificate, insurance papers, etc)
  • Extra cash

Click here to learn more about what you need to prepare for an emergency.

Castillo said you will need cash in the likely event that power is out.

"If the power is down, the ATMs might not be working," said Castillo. "Things like that they would need to have in case the power is out for a few days and they can't stay at home."

There is also an Emergency app by the American Red Cross that allows you to plug in your zip code and get emergency alerts. Each disaster alert will with a guideline on what you need to do. The app is available on Apple and Android devices.

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