Just in time for hurricane season, Sarasota County is introducing a plan to help transport people who can’t drive to evacuation centers.
Earlier this month, Sarasota County agencies brainstormed and developed the plan that will use Sarasota Count Area Transit (SCAT) and school district buses to move residents and their pets to safer locations.
“The objective is to get people that can drive or get a ride to those rally points, with their supplies, with their pets inside the crate,” said Emergency Management Chief for Sarasota County Ed McCrane. “Then we will transport them using a school bus or a SCAT bus to the nearest safe evacuation center for that hurricane.”
Pick-up locations were identified in south, central and north parts of the county. Individual managers will be assigned to each location, which McCrane said are being called ‘rally points.’ The locations could change depending on the severity of storms.
There are two options for the service, according to the Sarasota County Emergency Management website. Residents can drive up to a rally point, park their car and get bussed to an evacuation center. Or those who cannot drive or walk to a rally point can say in their registration form that they need assistance.
Transportation will be to and from one of 11 Sarasota County evacuation centers used specifically for hurricanes. All of those shelters will allow pets. A list of those shelters can be found here.
Sarasota County is one of the first counties in Florida to establish a dedicated plan for people who can’t get to evacuation centers.
“We’ve never had a transportation plan for the public,” said McCrane. “This is the first time we’re doing that.”
Residents who want to participate in this program must register themselves and immediate family members, using this form. It can also be printed out and mailed. Staff at county libraries can assist people who need help with registration.
Signing up is encouraged, but doesn’t need to be done before hurricane season starts on June 1. Instead, online registration is open until 60 hours before a storm hits landfall. McCrane urges community members to register even if they are not sure they will use the service.
“We can utilize this plan for any emergency situation,” said McCrane. “This is a specific program separate from the medical evacuation shelters, and it helps people that maybe were driving last year and now they’re not. People need to get into the system now, not at the last minute.”
Once residents are registered, an automatic telephone message will notify them about the evacuation center location and rally point.
Pick up locations will be activated after shelters and evacuation centers open up, which is typically 48 hours before a storm. All transportation services will stop when landfall is expected within eight hours.
Residents getting a ride are allowed to bring up to two carry-on bags each, and McCrane suggested people bring battery-powered flashlights, food and pet supplies. People can be expected to be transported back to their homes about 12 to 24 hours after the storm if there is no severe damage.
Hillsborough County Emergency Operations has a similar plan, in partnership with its public-transit program known as HART. More information about that evacuation program can be found here.
In Pasco County, there is an ‘Alert Pasco’ notification system that functions with the My Pasco mobile app. The county says residents can sign up for that service by texting PASCOFL to 8888777, and they will begin receiving emergency notification updates.