Florida officials, along with emergency experts, held a hurricane practice drill Wednesday in the event of a major hurricane hitting the Tampa Bay area during the Republican National Convention this summer.
The 2012 Republican convention is set to take place in Tampa this August and is estimated to draw nearly 50 thousand people to the area during the four day event. The prospect of a possible storm hitting Florida during this time has prompted state officials and convention organizers to make plans for a worst case scenario.
In a practice drill starting Wednesday at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, emergency workers practice their response to a fictitious hurricane named "Gispert." In the practice scenario, the storm makes landfall just north of Tampa, somewhere near Tarpon Springs FL. Gispert creates a heavy storm surge pushing massive amounts of water into Tampa Bay, flooding the city and causing major evacuations.
According to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, if such a scenario threatened to take place, Florida would postpone the event, although, stressed that the ultimate decision to postpone would rest solely with Florida Governor Rick Scott.
Florida House of Representatives
Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll
"Public safety. That's going to be the number one priority. We can have the convention again," said Carroll.
The Lt. Governor also told the press that Florida officials have recently been in talks with the RNC and are going over all possible options in case a hurricane does threaten the area during the time of the convention.
The four day drill started just one day before scientists released its annual hurricane report for 2012.
In a news conference held in Miami Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it predicts a slightly calmer hurricane season this year. However, they also acknowledge that much of its prediction will depend on El Niño nuances in which they admit they do not entirely understand as of yet.
Director of NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Robert Detrick said "There is still much to learn, like why some storms become large and dangerous hurricanes and some do not."
At Thursday's news conference NOAA released its official predictions for the 2012 hurricane season.
According to The Tampa Tribune, NOAA is predicting:
- Nine to 15 named storms, with sustained winds of at least 39 mph; of those,
- Four to eight likely will become hurricanes, with winds of at least 74 mph; and of those,
- One to three will become major hurricanes or Category 3, 4 or 5, with winds greater than 111 mph.
Hurricane season does not officially begins until June 1, although, with Tropical Storm Alberto forming off of the Mid-Atlantic coast last week, recent activity may lead some to question the NOAA report. However, Detrick stands by the findings and says that Alberto does not necessarily indicate a more active season this year and added that neither does the tropical depression currently hovering in the Gulf of Mexico.
Never the less, Florida Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon is urging people in the Sunshine State to have a disaster plan ready to implement if the need should arise.
"Hurricanes are bad," said Koon. "It's that simple, hurricanes are bad. But there are positive things that you can do as an individual and a family to help prepare yourself for those situations, things like making a disaster kit, having a communications plan with your loved ones, have an idea what your evacuation route is, where it is that you would go to seek shelter be it with friends or a hotel or family."
Florida officials say a disaster kit should include at least a three-day supply of food, water and medicine, a change of clothes, batteries, a blanket or sleeping bag per person, a battery or crank-powered radio and a flashlight.
Officials also advise citizens to identify a safe room in their home or a neighbors home, plan an escape route if you need to evacuate and know the location of nearby hurricane shelters.