ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Just days after Tropical Storm Colin swept through Northeast Florida, St. Johns County emergency crews held a drill Thursday to prepare for the rest of hurricane season and any other natural disasters that might occur.
More than 150 people from across the county came together to practice real-life scenarios with drills in preparation for what it would be like if a hurricane hit.
"(It) gives us an opportunity to bring out partner agencies, our volunteers, everybody that would be active inside the EOC (Emergency Operation Center) a chance to go through our comprehensive emergency management plan and work together to solve problems to prepare ourselves for hurricane season," said Linda Stoughton, director of St. Johns County Department of Emergency Management.
The drill was not only a chance to practice what happens internally at the operations center, but also a chance to review how to get important details out to the public quickly. The EOC is the place people would call to get information about evacuation routes and shelter locations if there was a big storm.
For the exercise, the county called the imaginary imminent threat off the coast “Hurricane Menendez.” Agencies practiced communicating with each other about what actions and steps needed to be taken if it hit the county.
“Technology has changed. And one of the challenges now is to make sure we harness that technology to be able to utilize and exploit it during these emergencies and notifications for information," St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said.
Websites and apps like Twitter and Facebook are a huge resource for the EOC to use to let people know what's going on minute by minute. St. Johns County officials said it's an easy way to get alerts out, and the drill helps teach agencies how to make those alerts more effective.
Emergency crews said Tropical Storm Colin was another opportunity to test out some of these operations ahead of weather this season that could be more severe.
“Once those storms hit, it’s too late for planning, so the more you can do ahead of time to prepare for the unintended consequences of a storm and the contingencies, the better off you are going to be come storm day," Shoar said.
Along with alerts and notifications via social media, information about evacuation zones, maps and plans are all available on the St. Johns County Emergency Management website.