Aug 24, 2023

How Gainesville officials prepare for hurricane season

Hurricane season is officially here and Gainesville leaders say they are already prepped and ready to go.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts as many as four major hurricanes during the 2023 season. Gainesville officials review processes, procedures and partake in scenario-based trainings throughout the year to prepare for the season, according to a city-issues press release. From stockpiling supplies to creating flood water mitigation plans, the city has been getting ready for the season for a while now.

With supply chain issues and a high demand for supplies like bottled water and batteries, the city has had to prioritize keeping inventory shelves stocked, according to the release.This process can take months and even years.

The Gainesville Fleet Management team, which maintains and repairs 1,600 municipal vehicles a year, also states that windshield wiper blades and tires are always in demand during the storm season.

"We’re stockpiling parts and topping off our fuel supplies," said Fleet Director Jason Foster. "We make sure the bucket trucks, bulldozers and all vehicles are ready, so once a storm passes, response teams can head out to cut down trees and clear roads or replace utility poles," he said.

More:What Alachua County residents need to know to stay safe during hurricane season this year

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Barry Corp., the GRU supply chain manager, said GRU ordered storm season supplies over a year ago.

"We already have an order in for next year, and are working on the order for the 2025 storm season," Corp said.

When it comes to parks, city officials make sure they have a concrete plan for preparing days before a storm, This includes securing picnic tables, umbrellas, chairs and even playground swings, according to the release.

"We tie down anything and everything that could move or be torn away in winds over 35mph," said Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Director Roxana Gonzalez. "After the storm has passed, we’ll look for trees that were damaged and branches that may still fall, and we’ll open the parks once we’ve secured the paths and trails as best we can."

With heavy rain comes the potential for flooding. This can cause problems for drainage systems and pumps. Jennifer McElroy, a GRU waste/wastewater environmental engineer, said GRU works year-round conducting inspections and performing preventative maintenance.

"Each of our water treatment or reclamation facilities will house a team on-site 24/7 until the storm response is complete," she said.

The city and GRU work with various partners to ensure a functional plan once a storm hits. This includes GRU hardening the wastewater collection system with Alachua County counterparts, and the city's solid waste division identifying debris collection sites with the county to collect vegetation after a storm passes.

"In the days prior to a storm, we plan for mutual aid needs, and adjust trucks and equipment – from being set up for construction activities – to being ready for storm work," said Ray Jordan, GRU electric transmission and distribution manager. "We focus on maintaining relationships with our partners year-round to ensure that we will be able to receive mutual aid quickly as well as provide it as needed," he said.

The city also offers tips for residents to prepare for storm season.

If a local emergency has been declared and a storm is expected to bring sustained rainfall and regional flooding the city will make sandbags available, said Public Works Director Brian Singleton.

Last September, the city was able to fill 32,000 sandbags ahead of Tropical Storm Ian, according to the release. Bags should be placed in front of doors and garages to prevent stormwater from entering the house.

It's also advised to create an evacuation plan, disaster plan, and to have an emergency kit prepared.

Gainesville Fire Rescue District Chief of Emergency Management Sean Withers suggested printing out important insurance documents and other records you would need if you evacuate. He also said to create a kit with clothing, medications, first-aid supplies, and food and water.

"There really is no time like the present to prepare for hurricane season," Withers said.

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