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Port Orange Observer Tuesday, Jul. 10, 2018 2 years ago

One month into hurricane season, Volusia County officials urge residents to have an emergency preparedness plan

Last year, there were five county schools that were used for special needs sheltering.
by: Nichole Osinski Community Editor

The Atlantic has seen its first hurricane of the 2018 season. 

Beryl, which was downgraded to a tropical storm from a category one hurricane this weekend, has a 50% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the Bahamas during the next five days, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

And while Florida may only see remnants of the storm, Volusia County officials are still working to educate the public, especially those with any special needs, about having an emergency plan in place if and when the next storm does hit. 

Volusia DOH Executive Community Health Nursing Director Denise Ayers said that last year there were five county schools utilized as shelters during the storms. She said that while there is a registration process, which residents with special needs are encouraged to utilize, last year brought in multiple individuals that were looking for last-minute sheltering. 

"Last year we had many individuals who maybe resided further south and were going to self-evacuate but because of shortages of gas, bottlenecks in roads, ended up sheltering here," Ayers said. "You never know 100%, that's why everyone should have a plan."

According to Volusia County spokeswoman Shelly Szafraniec, there are currently 942 residents registered in Volusia County's Special Needs Registry. Last year, there were 426 residents seeking shelter in Volusia County Special Needs Shelters. 

Ayers said that what people need to remember is the main goal of the shelters is to keep people safe and that the facilities work as a supplement meaning that if individuals have special requirements, such as a low-sodium diet, they should understand that the shelters have limited resources. 

Ayers said that year-to-year it is always busy when it comes to emergency management due to the number of residents who plan on staying at home but then decide to seek out the safety of a shelter. According to Szafraniec, Volusia County Emergency Management plans and prepares all year long to respond to the different types of disasters, including tropical storms and hurricanes. She added that they work with all of the municipalities, the Volusia County School Board and the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County, as well as other local, state and federal organizations,  to ensure emergency response plans are in place.

And the majority of people that are staffed at the shelters come from these entities as well. Ayers said that there are very few volunteers.

As for this year, Ayers said that the goal is to always be prepared for whatever may happen and to ensure that every person knows what their role in the event of an emergency. 

"We want to have a well-oiled machine," Ayers said. "We want to make sure we can be in the shelter the moment emergency management says we need to be there, we want to make sure the shelter runs efficiently."


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