News Service of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, August 21, 2013.........Almost halfway finished, the 2013 hurricane season has been a breeze in Florida.
But Craig Fugate, the federal government's top emergency manager, looks at things a little differently. His question: "Have we started playing college football yet?"
Fugate and Bryan Koon, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, held a news conference Wednesday to reinforce the message that Florida is just entering the thick of hurricane season in late August and September --- which, coincidentally is when college football starts.
The folksy Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, knows what he is talking about. He formerly served as Florida's top emergency manager, including during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when seven hurricanes plowed into the state.
Despite the memories of those devastating years, Fugate and Koon expressed concerns that Floridians will not take steps such as heeding evacuation orders if a storm comes.
"I think it's in our DNA --- we go through denial,'' said Fugate, who started his career as a fire-rescue worker in Alachua County.
Florida has been spared hurricane damage during the past several years and has not been seriously threatened this year. But the emergency managers said late August and September are considered high points of the hurricane season because of warm water temperatures that help fuel the storms.
Koon noted that Saturday is the 21st anniversary of Hurricane Andrew slamming into Miami-Dade County and said it "only takes one" hurricane to cause massive damage. The hurricane season started June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30.
The emergency managers focused heavily on the need for Floridians to follow evacuation orders. Fugate said the public becomes too fixated on the category of the storm --- with Categories 1 through 5 delineating strength --- and that much of the worst damage often comes from issues such as storm surge and flooding.
"Don't focus on the number, focus on the impacts,'' Fugate said. "The category of a storm does not tell you all the impacts."
Koon said evacuations and forecasts are not an "exact science" and that sometimes people will be told to leave areas that, in the end, don't need to be evacuated. But he said emergency officials are focused on saving lives.
Florida also could face increased damage if a hurricane hits this year because of heavy rains that have already saturated many areas. Koon said that could lead to problems such as increased flooding, more trees falling down and roads washing out.
Associated Press Release
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The emergency management chief for the United States is warning that Floridians are in "denial" about the threat posed by hurricanes.
Craig Fugate is the administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said many Floridians wrongly believe they have survived the full force of hurricanes.
Fugate was Florida's emergency chief during the 2004 and 2005 storms. He was visiting his old offices Wednesday.
Fugate said there "tends to be a bit of arrogance" among Floridians about storms. He said in reality that hurricane force winds and storm surge were only experienced in small compact areas such as the beach areas near Pensacola during Hurricane Ivan.
Fugate said that's why Floridians should take evacuation orders seriously. He said that too many people wrongly assume that a Category 1 storm isn't serious.