Locals gather to talk emergency preparedness

Gainesville resident Kellam Johnson O'Brien, 7, takes a break from holding sandbags open as his father, Sean Johnson, in white shirt, fills bags for a stranger.
Gainesville resident Sean Johnson (with shovel) helps others fill sandbags at Citizens Field ahead of Hurricane Ian in 2022.
Photo by Megan V. Winslow

While many associate summer—which officially arrives Thursday—with vacations and fun, it also brings hurricanes, heat waves, flooding, and other extreme weather events. That’s why a group of locals is taking steps to be prepared should disaster come our way.

“A resilient community is a prepared community,” said David Peaton, assistant director of Alachua County Emergency Management. “If our community is not prepared, and more importantly, if they don’t understand the resources available, it doesn’t matter what we do.”

Peaton was the main speaker at two virtual preparedness presentations on Tuesday. The events included Community Organizations Active in Disasters (COAD) in Alachua County, a national network of community groups working to support local disaster preparedness and recovery efforts.

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Alachua County’s COAD works under the direction of Peaton’s Office of Emergency Management, which is part of Alachua County Fire Rescue and offices in the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office building on Hawthorne Road.

“It’s important we keep pushing that out to the public so that everyone knows what is available and what they should be doing on their part,” said Peaton, who spent years as assistant director of emergency management in Levy County before shifting to Alachua County. “If we do that, we’ll be better off for that.”

Ellen Siegel of the CLEO Institute, a Florida-focused, non-profit, nonpartisan climate education and advocacy non-profit, organized the event.

“We aim to reduce risk to life and property through education, support government efforts in recovering from any type of disaster and provide support at the hyper-local level when needed,” Siegel said.

Peaton’s emergency management team operates with federal and state grants as well as local funding. He described large-scale incidents like hurricanes as “easy” because we are accustomed to thinking about them.

“If you live in Florida, you know about hurricanes,” he said. “But there are other things—more severe weather like tornadoes, significant flooding, and heat are becoming more of an issue. Not just physical heat, but heat’s impact on services.”

Heat index chart
Source: National Weather Service A heat index chart.

Peaton emphasized that the emergency office must include all hazards in its planning and be prepared to respond within an hour of being notified of a significant event. But he stressed how much his office depends on people in the community to know what to do.

“All disasters are local,” Peaton said. “It doesn’t matter what the incident is, it will be our incident. At the end of the day, all disasters are local. There are a lot of organizations – and it is very important to coordinate things, so we are all on the same page.” The first step is to stay informed.

Alachuacountyready.com has more information, and residents can text Alachua to 888-777 to receive real-time updates from the county. For personal preparedness information, go to www.ready.gov for information on building your disaster supply kit before an emergency happens.

National weather forecasters are predicting above-normal activity for this year’s Atlantic hurricane season.

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