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At 55 miles per hour, the wind is strong enough to tear down power lines, tree branches and material from homes and businesses. The debris is blocking access along key roads into the city. Homes have flooded. Power and utilities are out. People are taking shelter in schools. Looters have hit several homes, and emergency workers— police, fire and EMS—even if they could get inside the city, are not allowed to be out in such high winds.
This was the scenario presented at the Cedar Key Visitor's Center May 24 as part of a hurricane tabletop exercise.
About 30 people, representing more than 10 different agencies, gathered to come up with a plan in such an event.
“I think this is one of the best exercises we've done for hurricane preparedness," said Levy County Emergency Management Director Mark Johnson during a critique at the end of the exercise.
“It was very organized," he said, though adding he would like to have had more time to go through some of the issues.
The exercise lasted about four hours and split attendees into two main groups: county organizations and representatives from the City of Cedar Key. The groups dealt with three stages of a mock hurricane.
Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce president and exercise spokesperson for the Cedar Key group, Andrea Dennison, said one of the biggest issues to unfold during the exercise was determining staging for re-entry onto the island after a hurricane.
Lee Newsome, exercise facilitator, said whatever plan is adopted needs to be consistent with the rest of the county. An I.D. system needs to be adopted, he said, to help law enforcement in managing re-entry.
“It's something that needs to be done ahead of any disaster."
Other issues brought up included dealing with looters, downed power lines, dead bodies, unsafe drinking water, requesting services and supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, getting word to residents off the island and the general flow of information.
Both groups were given high marks by the the exercise facilitators for the rate at which they processed information and then took action.
You took the bull by the horns," one exercise grader said of Cedar Key representatives. "You touched on just about everything you can touch on."
Another grader said "Levy County is extremely resourceful, and Cedar key is the same way. Overall, participation here was great."
County representatives, which included the sheriff's office, the school board, emergency management, public safety, the road and health department, and the board of commissioners, was also praised for organization and infromation flow.
One grader said sheriff's office PIO Scott Tummond was able to get information out to about 20 different news outlets in about five minutes after receiving the information.
"That's phenomenal," she said. "You don't usually see that. Ya'll have a real good system in place."