Plans in place in case of hurricane during RNC
TAMPA - Emergency management officials are keeping watch on a tropical storm that could be swirling toward Florida during the Republican National Convention. If the tropical disturbance churns out thunderstorms or becomes a hurricane, officials say they will follow standard emergency procedures for shelter and evacuation despite the additional 50,000 visitors and 15,000 protesters expected to be in town for the convention. "Basically, we have to follow our normal protocols," said Hillsborough County Emergency Management spokeswoman Holly Wade. That means tracking tropical weather systems during the week of the convention, then relaying the information to convention organizers.And if a storm does hit, work crews will be out the moment the weather calms down to assess damage and begin repairs, emergency officials said. If a hurricane or tropical storm is bearing down on Tampa, the priority of law enforcement is to evacuate residents, leaving GOP officials to make the decision of when to evacuate delegates, Wade said. "We have to look at a lot of factors, like timing and landfall," Wade said. "We provide the weather information, then we take that to the host committee, which decides if the event goes on or if the event gets altered." In 2008, Hurricane Gustav slammed into Louisiana just as the GOP convention in St. Paul., Minn., was getting under way. The Category 2 storm led Republicans to cancel opening-day events and open with a scaled-down national convention. Gustav also forced then-President George W. Bush to stay in Washington and address delegates via a satellite uplink. Until it comes closer to Florida, the storm's projected path is just "based on guesses," Wade said. "But it's a head's up," she said. "The good thing about tropical systems is that they don't jump out from behind a tree. We see them coming." Already this week, as crews prepare for the convention, Tampa has been reminded of the potential damage from Florida's summertime weather. Heavy rain and strong winds that swept through Tampa on Monday night blew down an overhead sign on the Hyde Park Avenue access to Davis Islands, closing the right lane and leading to massive traffic backups Tuesday morning. There also were damage reports from Pinellas County, where high winds blew through between 8 and 11 p.m. Monday. The storm also damaged a covered, quarter-mile-long, air-conditioned tent installed between the Tampa Convention Center and the Forum. It was built to protect convention-goers from rain and heat. "Those poor little tents are not designed for these squalls," Wade said. "It was a lesson learned." Wade said emergency officials were "brutally honest" with members of the GOP site selection committee about summer weather in Florida during hurricane season. But what's considered normal for Tampa residents may seem odd and even threatening to visitors and GOP officials. "They've been a little bit surprised by it, that we take it so casually that there's these giant thunderstorms that come out of nowhere," Wade said. "Delegates have to be aware that this is not weather they're used to."
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