WASHINGTON AND HOLMES COUNTIES - By 4:15 p.m. Thursday, the drafted local state of emergency to be issued to county commissioners if Emergency Operations Center officials deemed necessary, had been fully endorsed by a statewide emergency status declaration by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
"This provides state and local governments ample time, resources and flexibility to prepare as the exact landfall location of Hurricane Dorian continues to fluctuate," the governor’s office said in a news release announcing the executive order.
As of Friday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center, the storm was on track to make landfall along with east coast of the state as a Category 4 storm, with winds reaching as high as 130 miles per hour.
Washington County EOC Public Safety Director Lynn Abel said the EOC is coordinating with emergency personnel, the sheriff's office, school board, and other agencies to make sure "we have a plan and back up plan" in place in the case of a "worse case scenario."
Although under the governor's declaration, the EOC had not been activated as of Thursday late afternoon. It is important to note that the declaration serves as a point of preparation, while activation is implemented by the counties as the threat becomes more apparent.
"We need to have plans in place in case we do have some issues," Abel said late Thursday. "Our biggest concern is making sure that individuals are prepared, they have their personal plan in place - as far as [evacuation plans] - and emergency kit ready."
"There's plenty of time right now to act now and get prepared," she added. "Now is the time to prepare just in case."
Late Thursday, Abel said the EOC had expected a northerly turn. As of early Friday morning, the Category 2 hurricane churned east of the Bahamas, moving northwest at 12 mph, according to National Weather Service. By mid-afternoon, it was predicted to strengthen to a Category 3.
However, the projected path of the storm still remained ambiguous to weather officials.
Holmes County EOC held a meeting Thursday and is poised to declare a local state of emergency later today.
"We discussed any anticipated needs anything that might be coming down in the future," said Holmes County EOC Director Wanda Stafford. "We have gotten sandbags built and stored, and generators topped off with fuel."
Like practically all Panhandle counties struck by Hurricane Michael, local counties are hoping the storm still veers northward.
"We're still hoping it's going to go north, but if not, we're going to be prepared as we can be for it," Stafford said.
When asked about the possibility of the county having to absorb any visitors fleeing the storm, Abel said, "Unless we are asked at this point to open our shelters, we don't anticipate to do so right now. That's just not wise, given the potential track."
If the storm crosses into the Panhandle, the shelters and emergency accommodations would need to be available to local residents. Also, people fleeing the storm from the east coast impact would put themselves into the path of the storm if the Panhandle is then struck as well.
"We can't risk putting our folks and additional people in harms way," Abel said.
For weather updates, go to alertWashington.com or call the Washington County Emergency Operations Center between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 850-638-6203.
Call Holmes County EOC and sign up for alerts at 85-547-1112.