THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, August 23, 2012
Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
Organizers of the Republican National Convention will make the call on whether to cancel their shindig or not as Tropical Storm Isaac bears down on Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday.
Ramping up efforts as Isaac continues its track toward the state – and in some models toward the Tampa Bay area where as many as 50,000 visitors are expected for the convention - Scott said Florida and local officials will work with organizers to keep them apprised of storm conditions.
But the final decision on whether to go forward with the convention that begins Monday will rest with the RNC, though the state will provide input.
"Local teams will make evacuation plans for their areas depending on what happens," Scott said during the first of two scheduled updates Thursday. "The convention will make its own decision. The goal is that you have everybody together, we'll have the same information and can coordinate our efforts and work together."
It's still too early to know if Tropical Storm Isaac will threaten the Republican National Convention next week, but Gov. Rick Scott says convention organizers will make the decision whether to cancel the event.
Scott says state emergency management leaders are holding two briefings a day with convention organizers and county emergency managers to make sure everyone has the latest information.
The RNC spent the last 18 months planning the convention and the possibility of a hurricane was part of that process.
Gov. Scott says he won't tell convention organizers whether to go ahead with the event if Isaac threatens. Ultimately, he says that will be the RNC's choice.
State emergency managers will hold twice daily briefings with convention organizers and local responders starting today in an effort to ensure that everyone has up-to-date information.
Scott plans to activate the state's emergency operations center later Thursday and will hold more regular updates in the days leading up to the convention, which runs through next week.
"This is the convention's decision," Scott said. "They will work with the city. They will work with the county. They will work with the state. By having these briefings, everybody will all have the same information so I don't think we will have any confusion."
On Wednesday, Florida's director of emergency management, Bryan Koon, said portions of the Tampa Bay area are located in mandatory evacuation zones. Convention visitors would be expected to comply with local evacuation directives if they're ordered, Koon said.
Scott is scheduled to speak at the convention Monday evening, but said he will decide later in the week if he will be available. Four years ago, then-Gov. Charlie Crist skipped the Republican convention in Minnesota because of Hurricane Gustav in Florida.
"I'm responsible for the 19 million people who live here and the visitors," Scott said. "That's what my focus will be."
Following an inadequate response to Hurricane Andrew 20 years ago this week, Florida officials have spent tens of millions on emergency response and set up a command system that links local, state and federal agencies together.
Earlier this year, emergency managers conducted a hurricane exercise that focused on a category 3 hurricane hitting the Tampa Bay region during the convention.
While national attention has focused on the RNC, Scott said the track of the storm can change dramatically over the next several days. Nearly all of Florida is currently within the storm's potential path.
"This state is prepared," Scott said. "We've gone through hurricanes."