Surge is big worry in a storm

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By Lou Elliott Jones

The state emergency management director told the Levy County Commission on Tuesday that being prepared is important, but because of the nature of the county’s coastline the biggest danger in a storm of category 5 is the surge.

Bryan Koons, state emergency management director, said in a storm the wall of ocean water could reach in as far as U.S. Highway 19 and affect one-quarter of the county’s population. Koons was at the commission’s regular meeting to provide a briefing on the 2012 hurricane season and what his department is working on in conjunction with Levy Emergency Management Director Mark Johnson. 

“One you already know about from when Tropical Storm Debby came through with rainwater and flooding,” he said. Koons lightly touched on what can happen, such as a storm surge or other scenarios, like a storm making landfall 

“The least favorable one is a hurricane hitting Tampa sending people in an evacuation up here,” Koons said. “You are in kind a sweet spot where it doesn’t take a landfall of a hurricane to have an impacts on you all.”

Koons provided the commissioners with information to help them in making decisions leading up to disasters and making an emergency declaration.

He also explained changes that could be coming in how disaster declarations would be initiated and the state, FEMA or federal aid for emergency preparedness.

He said one change the county can expect is in the threshold it must reach to qualify for disaster aid. Currently the rate is $3.39 per capita or about $150,000 or so of damage for Levy County. “That hasn’t changed for a bit of time,” he said. He said the federal government is looking at raising the threshold. 

“There is some real potential that threshold to double or treble … say for Levy County $400,000 or $500,000.”

Koons went on, “Where it may be problematic is we may have smaller storms that impact.”

He said the state would have issues with that scenario. “We are going to have issues as we go forward of this, if we don’t have funding to fall back on for those smaller storms.”

The main motivator for changes he said is that the federal budget, which provides support is being reduced and mentioned that emergency preparedness grants distributed by the federal Department of Homeland Security are being scrutinized. But Koons assured the commissioners that Gov. Rick Scott has a team in place in Washington, D.C., to work to make sure that the state is not affected. 

“This is something we will be watching very closely,” he said.