Wednesday marked the official start of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, which continues through Nov. 30. For the past decade, Wellington and Royal Palm Beach have been spared direct hurricane hits, suffering only limited flooding from storms such as Tropical Storm Isaac in 2012.
Wellington, however, is ready for anything that might cross its path.
“It’s the same thing we do every year,” Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes said. “We are fairly well prepared on a regular basis for hurricane season and just throughout the year for any kind of emergency.”
Addressing the impact of weather events, and the corresponding effects on roads, infrastructure and residents, is something that Wellington has been working on.
In advance of the federal government making it mandatory for all agencies that receive disaster aid to have an incident command system, Wellington had one in place.
“We have an emergency response setup ready. Staff members know their positions and duties that are required in the event of an emergency, depending on the level of the emergency and how much of the staff we activate to address it,” Barnes said.
Wellington has already gone through its mock drill and exercises to prepare for storm season.
There is a detailed hurricane plan that sets out how to secure equipment prior to a storm making landfall, Barnes said. Those involved are prepared and ready because of the drills and exercises.
“In a worst-case scenario storm event, existing operations have to be maintained and ongoing services have to be maintained, in that even if the hurricane happens on a weekend, the following week, there are people expecting to conduct business,” Barnes said.
There is another segment of the staff that maintains non-emergency functions, with a reduced number of personnel. That plan, he explained, is called the “continuity of operations” plan, to dedicate a portion of staff to maintain normal daily business.
Barnes suggests that residents and their families have a plan in place in the instance that there is a major storm. In the event of evacuation during a storm, arrangements for pets should be made. Securing your home and belongings is also important.
Residents can still prune their trees and landscaping. However, once there is a named storm, residents should not continue with yard maintenance. There may not be sufficient time for the vegetation to be picked up, Barnes warned.
“A lot of times, the planning is really something that should happen year-round,” he said. “Hurricane season isn’t the first time that somebody should be considering looking at shutters or some kind of shuttering system. They should be doing that in advance of hurricane season.”
Preparing for a storm is also a year-round effort in Royal Palm Beach, Village Engineer Chris Marsh said.
“We understand the critical elements that will kick in for the month of June,” he said. “It’s all part of preparing for the storm.”
In Royal Palm Beach, most people do not evacuate for a storm.
“People typically stay within their homes during a hurricane,” Marsh said. “We recently updated the village’s stormwater master plan. It looks at 100-year, three-day storm, rainfall events. It allows us to identify the areas that will be underwater. It gives our residents an idea of what to do.”
Marsh and Royal Palm Beach staff are prepared no matter what happens, despite there not having been a major hurricane in the area since Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
“Our job is to survey the local conditions that are specific to this area,” he said. “We are an outlet for providing information to residents who are seeking help and guidance during a hurricane.”
Marsh urged residents to be ready well in advance. “Get your supplies and stay informed,” he said. “Messages from the emergency operations system are important.”
Palm Beach County offers a hurricane guide at www.readypbc.org, with important phone numbers, a checklist, what to do during a hurricane warning or watch, emergency shelter locations and more. Both Wellington and Royal Palm Beach officials recommend that residents check it out as they prepare for a possible storm.
“The county has a really good guide on prepping for a hurricane,” Marsh said. “When preparing for a hurricane, you must have the appropriate resources. At the top of the list is having water and flashlights on you. That’s important. Use the county’s web site to help you with that process.”
To keep people informed, Wellington utilizes CodeRED, an emergency notification system, internally and externally, to allow residents to receive messages in a reverse 911 format. However, residents will be notified only if they have signed up for the notifications.
Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been used extensively in the past. Barnes doesn’t expect that to change.
“It seems to be one of the best ways to provide information to the greatest number of people, given that so many people have access to and utilize all the different social media outlets,” he said. “We will continue to post information and updates as they become available on social media.”
With Tropical Storm Isaac, Wellington received a large amount of rain in a short time during late August 2012, rather than strong winds or heavy sustained rains. Roads and swales were inundated.
Longer-term residents, however, know that hurricanes Frances, Jeanne and Wilma in 2004 and 2005 taught the importance for preparing for the season, Barnes said, adding that he doesn’t think people have become complacent or indifferent toward hurricane preparation.
More critical elements in preparing for the season can be found on the Palm Beach County Hurricane Preparedness web page at www.pbcgov.com/dem/hurricane.