Emergency preparedness tips for First Coast residents



For younger readers, the name likely conjures up images of a friendly, bilingual cartoon character. But for First Coast residents of a certain age, the name has a far more serious connotation.

On Sept. 10, 1964, just as The Beatles were arriving to perform at The Gator Bowl, Hurricane Dora hit Jacksonville, buffeting the city with 115 mile-per-hour winds for more than 15 hours. And while Dora was the last major hurricane to make a direct hit on the River City, there are plenty of reasons why First Coast residents should have plans in place for hurricanes and other emergencies.

Chief among them: the tremendous population growth the First Coast has seen since Dora made landfall a half century ago. Since 1964, the population of Duval County has nearly doubled to approximately 886,000 in 2014. St. Johns County, meanwhile, has seen a virtual population explosion, with the number of county residents increasing nearly 600 percent in the past 50 years. What’s more, many of those new residents live close to the shoreline, increasing the possibility of storm evacuations.

Here are a few basic tips to prepare for an emergency:

Make a plan: Develop a simple, agreed-upon plan so that family members both near and far will know what to do should an emergency occur while they are separated. Share emergency contact numbers and select an evacuation location where family members will meet if evacuation becomes necessary.

Assemble a disaster supply kit: Have at least three days of food, water, sanitation and hygiene supplies on hand in case a storm hits and you’re unable to get to the store. A simple first aid kit, battery-operated radio (with extra batteries) and matches kept in a sealed plastic bag will also come in handy, as will a separate disaster kit to keep in the car should an evacuation order be issued.

Secure your property: In the event a hurricane or other serious storm is on its way, cover outside windows and doors and bring in or secure outside furniture. Fill water bottles and the tub to ensure a supply of clean water for drinking and bathing should there be an interruption in service. Seniors who have hearing loss, meanwhile, may wish to purchase special smoke detectors that not only emit louder signals but also flash lights in the event of smoke or fire caused by a natural emergency.

Follow instructions
: If a hurricane or other disaster occurs, monitor TV and radio reports for instructions from your local, county or state government. If an evacuation order is given, don’t ignore it. Attempting to shelter in place when the authorities have determined evacuation is necessary may be dangerous, resulting in injuries or even death. Seniors, adults with disabilities and others who may need assistance in evacuating can register in advance with their county’s emergency management office. Visit your local county website to register for its special needs registry; in the event there is an emergency, county officials will already have your name, address and contact info needed to evacuate you safely. The St. Johns County Emergency Management department and Duval County website enable residents to submit registrations online.

By taking a few simple precautions in advance, First Coast residents can ensure that they remain safe and secure during a natural emergency.