Kevin Smith is accustomed to being in the midst of chaos. But the director of Emergency Disaster Services for the Salvation Army had a wake up call in 2004 when he sat outside using a power inverter in the truck because his Land O' Lakes home was without power. After three days without electricity, he realized how unprepared he had been for the storms that blew through the Tampa Bay area that year.
“I tell people all the time to be prepared and I wasn’t doing it myself,” Smith said.
Only about 30 percent of the population actually has a disaster preparedness plan and at the time, he wasn’t among them.
Now, in the wake of the damage left behind , Smith said residents have a better gauge than ever before to determine what might happen if a larger storm hit the area.
“If you look at how Debby has impacted the Tampa Bay area, it’s very obvious that we would be in very big trouble,” he said.
People tend to just focus on wind speeds when they think about tropical weather systems, but it’s the storm surges, flooding and tornadoes that have the potential to cause the most loss, Smith said.
Debby was not a high-wind event — “Most people in the Bay area didn’t see a wind gust above 50 mph” — and yet the storm’s impact in terms of flooding and tornadoes was significant, Smith said.
Smith suggested that residents use Debby as a foundation to assess where they will stand in the event of another, possibly stronger storm.
“That type of history hasn’t been available to us before,” Smith said. Even the storms of 2004 didn’t impact the Bay area as significantly as Debby did in some areas, he said.
“Now that everyone has a frame of reference, there’s no excuse.”
If your lot built up a lot of water, are you going to learn from that? Is there a tree with limbs that swayed precariously above or near your home? Are you going to go ahead and cut that down now? If you were without power during Tropical Storm Debby, what is your plan for being without power next time? Those are the types of questions you should be asking yourself, Smith said.
There’s a lot of complacency among Bay area residents because the area hasn’t had a direct hit from a hurricane, Smith said.
“But it only takes one,” he said.
Smith asks that all residents who have the means to do so take , before another storm heads our way.
In any given community, there are always those people who can’t afford to make those preparations, whether it’s because of financial challenges or other reasons, Smith said. And in the event of disaster, it is those people that organizations such as the Salvation Army can focus on to bring relief in the wake of a storm, he said.
“For those that do have the means to make these necessary preparedness steps it is unacceptable that they become they ones we have to serve,” Smith said.
And the majority of people who read articles about emergency preparedness will agree that it’s important. But then they will walk away, get busy, and not take the steps necessary, Smith said.
Will you make being prepared a priority? Tell us in the comments. And don’t forget to read Smith’s .