CHIPLEY - As more people are expected to seek shelter in the case of a hurricane, Washington County Emergency Operations Center is urging local families to make evacuation plans now.
"We anticipate that this year, if we have a sheltering event, a lot of Bay County evacuees will be coming to us this year," said WC EOC Public Safety Director Lynne Abel. "They're going to look at things and take it a lot more serious. We want people to start thinking now about their hurricane preparedness plan."
During Hurricane Michael last year, about 300 people sought shelter in Washington County. With recent natural disasters, the number of volunteers at Red Cross has dwindled - particularly in the Gulf Coast. Some volunteers, for example, were sent to Texas to assist with the Hurricane Harvey response.
Abel said this year the EOC is moving away from Red Cross shelter and seeking local help from the school district to manage the shelters.
"It's a win-win for us for them to be involved in shelter management, because they know their facilities," she said. "They have a vested interest in those facilities and this community."
If you seek shelter, make sure you have everything you need with you - including water, food, medicines, sleeping bags, etc. Abel noted shelters are not made for comfort, and it's better to " go to a home of a friend or family member, or a home out of the area."
The county learned a lot from the Oct. 10 disaster and has made improvements to be more effective. The department has obtained communication equipment to give priority cell phone service to first responders, new search and rescue equipment and has applied for state grants for additional emergency communication options.
Abel said the EOC has streamlined its resources, as well. When churches poured out a massive amount of resources during Hurricane Michael, while appreciative, disorganization of the resources prevented people who needed the resources from receiving them.
We're emphasizing "the importance of resource tracking and being able to track equipment and resources that come in so that it or they can be used more effectively," Abel said. "(Michael) was such a large event. It came up so quickly. We want to be better prepared next time to manage the different resources that come in to help us.
We just want to have a better handle on managing."
To make a disaster plan, go to FloridaDisaster.org. To sign up for weather alerts effecting your area in the county, go to alertWashington.org.