ATLANTA, Ga. -- Next week's start of the hurricane season, normally a ritual signal for Tampa Bay and environs to focus on budding tropical storms, will witness a new approach to disaster resistance in 39 municipalities and four counties.
Beginning Wednesday with the signing of a Project Impact compact by Gov. Jeb Bush in behalf of the 43 governments with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, disaster-resistance will vacate its seasonal aspect and become a year-round priority.
A broad-based coalition of state and local governments, public agencies, private sector businesses and citizens in the four counties-Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas--that comprise the Tampa Bay region will formally join the FEMA initiative that centers on lessening the loss of lives and property in natural disasters.
That means communities, counties, the private sector, and FEMA will join hands in assessing regional risks from severe storms, then develop and implement strategies and actions that strategically limit the probability of disaster-related damage.
Nothing can stop a dangerous hurricane or a threatening weather cell, but Project Impact communities elsewhere already have proved that losses can be greatly reduced and lives actually spared as a direct result of proper planning and preparation.
The public-private partnership will target areas in the four counties most vulnerable to recurrent disaster damage, then develop and institute preventive measures. Included are fortifying buildings against high winds, elevating frequently flooded properties, improving storm alert warning systems, and promoting community disaster awareness, including timely evacuation measures.
Project Impact hazard-preparation plans will be coordinated through the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, an association of governments in the four participating counties and the 39 incorporated municipalities, including Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The signing ceremony will be held the Tampa Bay Convention Center Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. as part of the Governor's Hurricane Conference. Signers in addition to Governor Bush include John B. Copenhaver, regional director of FEMA; Steven M. Seibert, Secretary Department of Community Affairs; and the chairs of the four Boards of County Commissioners.
Leaders representing the counties, communities, and private sectors will sign the formal agreement tonight at a gathering aboard the Royal Conquest.
Tampa Bay will be the largest regional community in Florida to develop a Project Impact program. It also includes the state's highest total of repetitive flood loss sites. National Flood Insurance Program records show 6,611 recorded flood losses in the four counties at a total cost of $100,179,912.
Of Project Impact, FDCA Secretary Seibert said, "This is an inclusive approach that began in Deerfield Beach here in this state. We like it because it builds on the existing strong relationships between the state's public and private sectors, and encourages every sector to help identify ways to make our state more disaster-resistant."
Said FEMA Regional Director John Copenhaver, "Anyone who has been through a disaster doesn't want to face that again. Project Impact is a way to utilize hard-won experience by getting out in front of disasters, helping save more lives, preventing costly damage, and aiding families and businesses to stay on their feet---and at much less cost."
Due to its Gulf Coast location and low-lying topography, the Tampa Bay area is susceptible to storm surges and resultant flooding. The booming region is home to nearly 2.4 million residents, who represent one of the nation's highest at-risk populations. State officials estimate one million residents would have to evacuate the region if a Category Three (110mph) hurricane were to directly threaten it.
The Tampa Bay region is recognized as a national leader in its ha...