NICEVILLE – Hurricane Grisales made landfall at the Okaloosa County Emergency Operation Center Monday.
During the county’s annual hurricane training exercise, 30 emergency agencies worked together to evacuate Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, dispatch Coast Guard units to flooded regions and turn local schools into shelters.
“We’re practicing for hurricane landfall,” said Randy McDaniel, Okaloosa County’s chief of emergency management, during the four-hour exercise. “We’re working on the requirements for a storm, preparing for the storm and then dealing with the aftermath of the storm during the exercise.”
Throughout the morning, the teams were given unexpected scenarios during the fictional Hurricane Grisales. The agencies responded to the issues both separately and collectively to simulate different problems and outcomes. The purpose of the exercise, according to McDaniel, is to check the county’s hurricane protocols and provide the staff with hand-on training.
“They don’t know it yet, but for this storm I’m going to flood Crestview and turn it into an island just like Hurricane George did,” McDaniel said. “It will impact their logistics flow so they can determine how to get supplies in to begin recovery. We keep the (scenarios) realistic, as something that could actually happen during a storm.”
Hurricane season begins June 1 and will last through Nov. 30. EMS Shift Commander Darrel Welborn said now is the time for the community to prepare.
“Look out at your yard and make sure you take all of your loose items down,” Welborn said. “Make sure your roof is in good shape, you have proper storm shutters, you know your evacuation zones and you plan ahead.”
Welborn said to also have food, water and medical supplies for at least three days.
“The first three days are critical,” he said. “Depending on the damage we have, we may or may not be able to get there to help you.”
McDaniels said because the Panhandle is a very hurricane-prone area, the emergency teams are also taking preparation seriously.
“Statistically, every 10 years Okaloosa County is impacted by a major hurricane,” McDaniel said. “We’re long overdue. We prepare every year like that’s the year we’re going to see that hurricane make landfall.”
Walton and Santa Rosa counties will also hold their own state-mandated hurricane preparation exercises this week.
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be near-average, with less activity than 2016, according to weather experts.
Individuals can visit okaloosafl.com/ps/evacuation for information on evacuation routes, emergency broadcast systems and evacuation zones.