The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season began June 1, and Wellington officials said they are prepared, but asked residents to do their part as well.
Director of Operations Jim Barnes said village staff has been preparing since April for the storm season, including communications, mock events and improvements to the drainage system in anticipation of a stormwater event.
“We have gotten more involved in social media the last few years, so that’s also an avenue that we utilize to get information out to our residents,” he said. “Whether it be through our Facebook page or Twitter account, we’re able to send out posts and write updates as to anything going on or updates related to critical infrastructure services.”
That is in addition to more long-standing communication methods.
“We still have the service we have utilized in the past, which is the Code Red,” Barnes said. “That is like a reverse 911 system that allows us to call numbers in an identified area anywhere in the village, and we can define those on the fly and target a particular area that we might need to provide emergency information.”
Residents can sign up to receive the Code Red service, which is available in the bottom right-hand corner of the home page on the Wellington web site at www.wellingtonfl.gov.
Preparation for hurricanes and other emergencies is a year-round effort for Wellington staff.
“A lot of it is based on a management plan we have in place that dictates our activities that staff needs to undertake not only for hurricanes, but other emergencies,” Barnes said. “Especially for hurricanes, we have a timeline that identifies preparatory measures that we undertake as far out as 72 hours in advance of a storm making landfall, down to 48 and 24 hours, and it breaks it up into different departments that we have providing services, whether it’s public works, parks and recreation, or even the building department that would necessarily go out and make sure that private and commercial projects that are going to be inspected are secured as best as possible by developers and contractors.”
When a hurricane is not imminent, village staff members constantly review emergency management plans and run tabletop exercises that simulate the steps staff will need to take through an actual storm event.
“That way, we can step through our different procedures and operating requirements, and the staff is refreshed on it on a fairly regular basis for the season that we’re in now,” Barnes said.
Staff members have gone through two exercises since April, and they plan to do a more in-depth exercise before the end of the month.
“We like to get started with that in advance of the season,” he said.
The village has improved swales, cleaned or replaced culverts, and cleared and dredged canals and banks to improve drainage and prevent flooding, which is often the most damaging aspect of hurricanes.
“We have done a significant amount of improvements in the system and we will be able, I think, to see the results of that,” Barnes said. “Hopefully, we’ll never have to, but we will see the results of our infrastructure maintenance efforts in the event of a hurricane or a major rain event.”
The village has also replaced old pumps with variable-speed pumps in order to control the amount of stormwater discharge, which has been an issue in the past.
“We’ve done upgrades to our pump stations so we’re able to run more efficiently and adjust to the changing water levels,” Barnes said.
They have also gone through the system of pipes connecting the drainage systems in the village, cleaning out or replacing pipes where flow was partially impeded or blocked due to age or deterioration. “Most of our system is older, and some of it is over 30 years old,” he explained. “A lot of that is the original infrastructure that was installed.”
Barnes also pointed out that the drainage system has changed dramatically since the original design, where the southern portion of the village drained south into the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
“Several years ago, we essentially replumbed the village, that now the entire drainage system flows north and is discharged into the C-51 [Canal] and ultimately into the regional system,” he said. “Just as important is that we did take a look at the entire system.”
Barnes recommended that residents have a personal plan to weather a hurricane and prepare their homes so that they are as safe as possible. They should make sure that shutters are still functional and other protective measures are in good working order.
“As prescribed by the county and the state, as we get closer to an actual storm event, they need to make plans and have provisions on hand in the event that service and infrastructure are interrupted,” Barnes said. “The more that the residents are prepared and the more that the village is prepared, we’ll be able to come out of the storm in better shape than we normally would have. The key is to make a plan and be prepared.”