PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla — It's hurricane preparedness week. In Pinellas County, leaders are gearing up by running through a hurricane simulation exercise all week long.
The simulation, named Hurricane Amaranth, is scheduled to make its simulated landfall on Friday as a category 2 storm. The exercise puts the county through worst-case scenarios of losing power and cell service.
Pinellas County Emergency Management tests all of its communications devices ahead of hurricane season.
“It’s extremely important because we need to be able to make sure we can communicate with all of our responders out there, with our different communities," Cathie Perkins, the emergency management director, said. "One of the things that we saw after hurricane Andrew was that you weren’t hearing anything from the communities from South Dade. It wasn’t because they were OK, it was because they had no communications to be able to relay information.“
Pinellas county will deploy portable cell phone towers when cell service is disrupted. The compact rapid deployable devices are mobile, take under an hour to set up, and can bring internet, cell service and radion technology wherever they're needed.
“Well basically, if you can’t communicate with people you’ve really got a problem," Clayton Parrott, the technical systems program manager, said. "The shelters need to be able to talk to the EOC to let them know, do they need further assistance."
The technology has been lifesaving in big storms. Parrott said the same systems were deployed in response to Hurricane Katrina.
With the devastation a storm can cause, emergency management does its test runs now.
“It allows us to actually test our plans and then see if there might be some gaps or things we might need to fix, communications issues sometimes even something as simple as having the wrong contact," Perkins said.
The county will continue its hurricane prep through the week, responding to the simulated landfall and surveying damage.
If the portable cell towers look familiar, Emergency Management used them to provide cell signals at the Tropicana COVID testing site. Staff needed the service to use iPads to check patients in and record their testing data.