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Drones are again part of Tampa's efforts to prepare for a potentially unpredictable hurricane season

 Several emergency officials for the city of tampa speaking in a parking lot in front of a podium, with emergency vehicles behind them.
Sky Lebron
WUSF Public Media
Residents who want are in need of up-to-date information can text “TampaReady” to 888-777

The drones will allow them to evaluate damage in areas that are inaccessible after a storm.

Tampa emergency personnel are getting prepared for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which starts June 1. And they’re using some relatively new technology for recovery efforts.

The city of Tampa is utilizing a drone program it started last year. It allows them to evaluate damage with aerial footage in areas that are inaccessible after a storm, working their way out from Tampa's three Emergency Response Centers, which are all elementary schools.

Brad Baird, Tampa's deputy administrator of infrastructure, said at a Wednesday news conference that a drone program like this in the city is crucial to staying ahead of recovery.

"It allows us to get information back quickly on an initial damage assessment that we can get to FEMA so that we're first in line for that reimbursement money,” Baird said. “Because, you know, even a city the size of Tampa, doesn't have unlimited resources."

Baird also said local emergency personnel are forming push routes to highlight critical turns and facilities.

“Tampa has not had a direct hit in a long time, over 100 years,” Baird said. “But you know, we plan for a direct hit every year, every day.”

Representatives from Tampa's police, fire, and city offices are all stressing the importance of having a plan in place in case the area is hit by a major storm.

“You can start preparing your homes, your families,” said Tampa Fire Chief Barbara Tripp. “Get important papers, prepare a kit … that’s food, medication, important papers, documents. Make sure you're secure all that. Have a plan.”

Tripp also stressed residents should take advantage of the state’s Disaster Sales Tax Holiday, which will cut costs of needed hurricane supplies until June 9.

The National Weather Service projects this year to be a "normal" hurricane season, meaning about 14 storms, with seven becoming hurricanes, and those of those becoming major hurricanes.

But Mayor Jane Castor said families should still prepare for anything.

"If we take a direct hit from a hurricane, it is not going to be pretty,” Castor said. “We will not be able to clean it up in a day or so, so we again have to be prepared for that — not only as a city and government entity, but our civilians as well.”

Castor says the city is addressing draining and stormwater weaknesses and making sure the area is ready for a hurricane's impact.

Tampa police officials are urging residents in certain ZIP codes that are flood-prone to order hurricane hang tags so they can have an easier time returning to their homes following an evacuation order. They can take up to 30 days to be processed.

Residents who want are in need of up-to-date information can text “TampaReady” to 888-777, and those interested in providing more aid during a storm can join the Civilian Emergency Response Team (CERT), which trains residents on how to prepare for emergencies close to them.

WUSF is also part of the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, and will provide up-to-the-minute updates on storms that are impacting the greater Tampa Bay region.

As a host and reporter for WUSF, my goal is to unearth and highlight issues that wouldn’t be covered otherwise. If I truly connect with my audience as I relay to them the day’s most important stories and make them think about an issue past the point that I’ve said it in a newscast, that’s a success in my eyes.