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Hurricane Season Preparations Begin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When more than 2,500 emergency managers, rescue workers and government officials descend on Fort Lauderdale this week, they won't be spending much time at the beach.

Instead, they'll be bracing for hurricane season and trying to instill a renewed sense of urgency for public preparedness -- after two quiet years in 2006 and 2007 in this state.

"We know at some point Florida will be impacted again by a hurricane, and the only way we can mitigate that impact is through planning and preparing," said Tony Carper, president of the Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference.

Officials from 59 Florida counties, 30 coastal states and four Caribbean nations plan to attend the five-day conference, which starts today in the Broward Convention Center.

Gov. Charlie Crist is the scheduled keynote speaker for the main session Wednesday. Other notable speakers: Craig Fugate, state emergency management director; Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center; and climatologist William Gray of Colorado State University.

The theme of this year's conference: "Maintaining the Vigil While Preparing for the Inevitable." That, emergency managers say, is a diplomatic way of saying they fear Florida's two-year break from hurricane damage could be over.

The problem, they add, is residents might not feel a need to gear up, even though long-range predictions call for a busier than normal season, which officially will start June 1 and end Nov. 30.

Carper, Indian River County's emergency management director and formerly Broward's director, said Florida was lucky that two Category 5 hurricanes, Dean and Felix, roared across the Caribbean last year -- rather than turn in this direction.

"What if Dean had hit Miami-Fort Lauderdale?" he asked.

Fugate said emergency managers need to anticipate that Florida residents will be apathetic about making preparations, even though the state was walloped by seven hurricanes in 2004-05.

The biggest challenge for emergency managers is to make the public realize it's critical to develop family plans and lay in supplies, he said.

"The job is always to try to get people to get ready for a hurricane, which can be so catastrophic to individuals who don't have a plan," he said.

Lori Vun Kannon, a public safety manager with Broward emergency management and the conference's vice president, calls it an opportunity for workers in various fields, including hospital care, law enforcement, government and weather forecasting, to take seminars to sharpen their skills.

She said the conference is also an opportunity for emergency managers from around Florida to plan ways to help each other.

"It's the one time we can all come together and talk about our experiences," she said. "It's good to know the game plan as we go into season."

Ken Kaye can be reached at kkaye@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7911.

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