Sheriff’s Corner

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Some Thoughts on Hurricane Season

Hurricane season. It’s that time of year when we start paying attention to the weather channel like many people in other parts of the country watch football. The Atlantic Hurricane season officially starts June 1 and runs through November 20.  This hurricane season has been particularly active for the Emerald Coast. However, we have luckily been bypassed.

In fact, it has been over 22 years since Walton County was impacted by Hurricane Opal. The population of the county then was around 27,000 citizens and less than 300,000 visitors and Highway 98 had two lanes and believe it or not traffic flowed just fine. Today we have around 72,000 citizens and we are approaching 4 million visitors. That’s a big change in a short time. This has been an active hurricane season and names like Harvey, Maria, and Irma are fresh on our minds. People took these storms seriously and they should have. But what concerns me is that when we “get dressed up and there is no dance”,  that no one will take it as seriously next time. To be clear, there will be a next time. It really is hard to remain diligent at all times. We in the public safety arena try hard to balance keeping the public engaged and yet not creating unnecessary panic. Let me give you an example. As a lifelong Floridian I maintain awareness of storms, but I don’t concern myself with them until they get into the Gulf of Mexico. At that point I watch and see if they touch land. One thing that was so different this time is that so many people were watching the storms and making preparations while the storms were in the Atlantic. My oldest daughter expressed the sentiment of many when she pointed out that all of our neighbors had cloth storm shutters up and were stocking supplies. I tried to explain that until the storm was in the Gulf, we should wait, and then if Walton County was going to be hit they would not ride it out here (to be clear my obligation is to stay in the county regardless of the storm’s strength, but I will evacuate my family).

My concern now is with consecutive missesmany people will not take the precautions when they are necessary because they have had too many false alarms. I hope that’s not the case, but I am also acutely aware of human nature. So, if you are one of those people who have said that you won’t leave next time or it’s too much hassle to prepare, I want to give you a few things to consider.

Walton County has the second slowest evacuation time in the state of Florida (Only Monroe County is slower) with a projected 32-hour time frame.  I will close the bridges that connect the south end of Walton County once the winds have reached a sustained speed of around 45mph. That means if you are south of the bay when the bridges are closed you will be staying south of the bay. The good news is that hurricanes are not a surprise. You will get more than enough notice to take appropriate precautions or to evacuate. So, if and when you hear us give a mandatory evacuation notice please take it to heart. We may have a few false alarms, but it is much better to be inconvenienced than to risk your life for something that can be replaced.

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