Yesterday marked the start of the 2017 Florida Statewide Hurricane Exercise, which runs through Thursday, May 4 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

Locally, Washington County Emergency Operations Center held a workshop to discuss the strengths and weakness of the county's emergency response system.

"The main need we see is that we need to improvement our communications system," said Washington County EOC Public Safety Director Lynn Abel. "Communication is key in an emergency."

Abel says the EOC hopes to have the resources soon to stage a full emergency drill with local emergency responders, hospital officials, and more.

At state level, the State Emergency Response Team (SERT) annual exercise tests Florida’s emergency plans and procedures for a potential hurricane landfall.

Along with federal, local and private-sector partners, FDEM will simulate emergency response efforts to manage an evolving hurricane scenario.

“I am proud of the many state, local and federal partners that are working together during this year’s Statewide Hurricane Exercise in order to ensure Florida is fully prepared for the 2017 hurricane season," said Governor Rick Scoot. "We know from our experiences with last year’s storms that early preparation is incredibly important and I encourage all Floridians to take action today to keep their families, homes and businesses safe.”

“The 2017 statewide hurricane exercise serves as an opportunity to practice our lessons learned from the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season and to solidify our valuable partnerships in preparation for the upcoming season,” said Bryan W. Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “As we work with our partners to test our hurricane response plans and make the necessary updates to keep Floridians safe, families should take the opportunity to double-check their own plans and ensure their disaster supply kits are properly stocked.”

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season begins Thursday, June 1.

For the latest information on the 2017 Hurricane Season and to get a plan, visit www.FloridaDisaster.org.

Meanwhile, Washington County has been working on efforts to bolster its emergency notification system, recently implementing Alert Washington, an emergency notification system geared to improved the speed at which residents receive information in weather or law-enforcement emergencies.

AlertWashington is part of the AlertFlorida notification system supported by global software company Everbridge. The system - touted by Everbridge as “the most comprehensive and coordinated statewide emergency notification program in the country” - is available free to Florida counties as part of a $12 million contract the state signed with the company in 2015.

Residents can choose to be alerted by text, email, phone, and more.

Abel says the program has potential to save lives.

“We are hoping everyone who can will sign up,” said Abel. “We don’t plan to bombard participants with a lot of information that is unnecessary, but when there is a significant weather event that is specific to their area, we will provide important information to residents that will help them make quick decision and react appropriately.”

To register for AlertWashington, visit https://member.everbridge.net/index/453003085614808

Assistance is also available for those who don’t have internet access or otherwise need help to sign up for the program. For more information, contact Washington County Emergency Management Center at 850-638-6203.