THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, August 23, 2012
Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
With Tropical Storm Isaac heading into the Caribbean, Florida officials said Wednesday it's too early to tell how the storm may affect the upcoming Republican National Convention slated to begin Monday in Tampa.
But they said the state is as ready as it can be.
“I am confident in our preparation, and the decision process in place to ensure the safety of both our residents and visitors during the convention," Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement.
With thousands of delegates and media scheduled to begin arriving in a matter of days, Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said preparations that began months ago continue, but final decisions are still days away.
"The (Republican National Convention), I will tell you, is a complicating factor," Koon said in an interview with the News Service Wednesday. "As far a hurricane goes, we will be preparing much like we normally do in these situations."
National Hurricane Center forecasts have put the Republican bash in Isaac's potential path. Still more than a thousand miles off shore, the storm's exact track won't be clear for a couple of days.
The state had already planned to elevate its emergency response level on Sunday in anticipation of the convention. That may now happen sooner.
"There are a lot of people interested in the potential overlap of the two events there so we have to make sure we are coordinating properly with the (RNC's) Committee on Arrangements," Koon said.
He said the decision on whether the convention goes forward will likely be made by the party, not state emergency officials, though government agencies will provide as much information as possible to help the RNC make that call.
"They have a bigger picture to think about: how they get their convention business done --so we have not established a drop dead date," Koon said. "But we are making sure they are fully aware of the forecast at this point, the uncertainty of the forecast at this point and the time of arrival et cetera…."
That said, convention goers will be treated like any other visitors. That means they may be required to move depending on the path of the storm.
"There are many parts of Tampa Bay area that are in evacuation zones because of the low lying nature of the terrain there," Koon said.
In May, state emergency responders conducted a tabletop exercise that considered a Category 3 hurricane hitting Tampa Bay. The irony was not lost on the former Wal-Mart executive who now oversees the state's emergency preparedness.
The practice exercise allowed state officials to work with local responders and federal agencies, in what may have been a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
One contingency not factored in to that exercise was the loss of the division's email system. Tangled up in a thwarted attempt to migrate to a new statewide email system, the division will be without email access beginning Wednesday evening as the state reverts to another server system.
Plans are for the email to be running again Thursday.
Tallahassee, Florida- August 22, 2012
Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to become a hurricane and could make landfall near Tampa during next week’s Republican National Convention. It’s a scenario emergency workers in Tallahassee have been preparing for, for more than a year.
'Prepare for the worst and hope for the best', it’s the mantra of employees at Florida’s Emergency Operation Center.
It’s so ingrained in their DNA that back in May emergency managers worked a scenario, where a category four hurricane hit Tampa on the second day of the Republican National Convention.
“We have been working on this for a year and a half,” said Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon.
Koon picked the right scenario. A situation similar to the drill is developing. Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to become a hurricane and could make landfall in Florida, although it’s less intense than the storm in the drill.
“It is better to exercise for a stronger storm so that you are prepared for a lesser event when it comes by, but it still could potentially be right now a category one or a category two hurricane when it makes landfall sometime in Florida over the weekend or next week,” said Koon.
Regardless of what happens with Isaac there are already plans in place to go to a level two activation here at the Emergency Operation Center for national security reasons.
A level two activation means, departments and agencies directly involved in the disaster will be in the Emergency Operations Center. Level One means all hands on deck. Koon says the storm may force a level one activation.
“We will likely go a bit earlier depending on the path of the storm,” said Koon.
And if an evacuation is ordered in Tampa, Koon has already worked out an escape plan with the Secret Service for political dignitaries.
Governor Rick Scott released this statement today.
“Although Tropical Storm Isaac is still far from Florida’s shores, we are closely tracking the potential for the storm to impact part or all of the state, including the Tampa Bay region during the Republican National Convention. Florida’s state emergency management team and local emergency teams have been working closely with convention officials and have been planning for this event for more than a year, and the possibility of a hurricane hitting the convention has been part of that planning process.
“I am confident in our preparation, and the decision process in place to ensure the safety of both our residents and visitors during the convention.
“As Florida’s governor, I’m urging everyone across the state to monitor the storm track, and use the next several days to prepare for a potential storm. As we know, storms this far from land are still unpredictable and everyone should be vigilant and prepared.”
August 22, 2012- Noon
Tropical Storm Isaac is out in the Atlantic. While it's path is unclear, the storm is already getting attention in Tampa where the Republican National Convention begins next week.
It's important to note Isaac is more than 1700 miles from Tampa. At this point, our meteorologist Rob Nucatola says it's far too soon to predict if the convention could be affected.
However, emergency operations administrators in Tampa are watching the storm closely. They've been planning for more than a year for the possibility of a storm hitting the area during the convention. With so much water, there are few options when it comes to evacuating Tampa. The area is riddled with bridges and bottlenecks.
With an estimated 60,000 visitors for the convention and roughly a million residents on the peninsula, it could mean earlier evacuations than normal.
One example of how difficult an evacuation might be is Davis Islands, home to Tampa's main hospitals.
When a sign blew down on the bridge there overnight, it caused back ups all morning long.
August 22, 2012 -
A tropical depression in the Atlantic Ocean has become Tropical Storm Isaac, the ninth named storm of the season – giving Republican National Convention officials something to think about. While the storm is not terribly well organized, early forecast tracks have the storm moving into the Caribbean, crossing Hispaniola and Cuba, possibly by Sunday evening. But after that, Isaac could become a problem for the GOP convention, which starts Monday in Tampa. Official forecast tracks don't project much beyond Sunday, but some early possible paths would include the Gulf coast of Florida early in the week. State emergency officials have said they've done exercises contemplating the possibility of a hurricane hitting Tampa during the convention, and have drawn up evacuation plans that account for the huge influx of delegates and media.