Many communities prepare for Hurricane Season, but one community that stands out in a hurricane strike zone with unique challenges is Orlando, Florida. Central Florida is home to many huge tourist attractions, bringing millions from around the country and around the world to visit. The Walt Disney World parks of Disney World, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios alone can attract up to 330,000 people in a single day. Add other major parks such as Universal Studios and Sea World, and one gets to appreciate the volume of people that vacation in central Florida. With so many people from out of town and not familiar with hurricane threats, leaders in the region have additional challenges to keep people there safe.
At the recent Hurricane Hunter / Hurricane Awareness Tour stop in Orlando, Manny Soto, the manager of the City of Orlando Emergency Management Office, talked about Orlando’s plan of action in an emergency with regards to a hurricane affecting Florida. Communication and teamwork are critical according to Soto. “A key part of my job is the partnerships our office forges with Orange County motels and hotels. We keep them up to date with the latest information on an approaching tropical system. We have an open line of communication in place and we need to make sure nothing interrupts this means of data transfer.”
“We have tens of thousands of tourists visiting Orlando at any one time. Many of these people are visiting the various theme parks Orlando offers. Part of our job is making sure these businesses have the most recent and accurate information available. Any data from the NHC (National Hurricane Center) or NWS (National Weather Service) is immediately available to these businesses through us. Again, these lines of information are absolutely vital and are the utmost priority to us. Without a way of communicating, we can not do our job of making sure the city is aware of the risks and dangers,” said Soto.
International tourists present a unique challenge to Soto. “We actively identify and communicate with the consuls of countries throughout the world found here in Orange County. If an international tourist needs help and thus needs to reach his or her consul in an emergency situation, it is our job to be able to keep these two groups in touch with one another.”
Soto’s office not only helps tourists, but residents too, from both Orange County and other nearby counties. “In Orange County, we recommend our residents to have a shelter-in-place at their residence. Generally speaking, we only make recommendations to evacuate for people in flood-prone areas such as low-lying locations, and those living in pre-manufactured homes that are particularly at risk from high winds. In addition, we are what is considered a host community. Basically, when tropical systems force coastal residents inland, we are here to help them. Our alliance with the local hotels and motels allows for a reduced rate for displaced coastal residents, tolls can be temporarily halted into Orange county and roadways are clearly marked as evacuation routes.”
Mr. Soto’s responsibilities and duties are very consistent to the theme of the Hurricane Awareness Tour: communication and teamwork. Mr. Soto does his best to make sure line of communication are open and available months in advance of hurricane season so no one is caught off guard. Preparation now can save panic and chaos if and when a hurricane is bearing down on Florida.
With an Atlantic and Gulf coast, Florida is especially vulnerable to tropical cyclone activity. Since 1851, from Texas to Maine, the U.S. coastline has suffered 290 hurricane strikes, with some storms, such as Andrew and Katrina, making two landfalls. That’s an average of almost two hurricane strikes per year. The Orlando area has been struck by 12 hurricanes, including one major system (1960’s Category 3 Hurricane Donna.) The broader region of central Florida, extending from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach, has been hit 33 times, including five major hurricanes. The Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 through November 30.