Population growth raises time needed to flee hurricanes
From the time an evacuation order for a major hurricane is issued, it would take about 21/2 days for all Bay area residents of vulnerable areas to reach safety.
That's 51/2 hours longer than in 2006.
The longer evacuation time comes from a new evacuation study for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee counties unveiled Thursday.
It shows that 1.9 million people in those counties evacuating for a hurricane with winds topping 155 mph would need 60.5 hours to leave the area, compared with 55 hours in 2006 when the last study was conducted.
Not everyone in the four counties would have to evacuate for a hurricane. Emergency officials order evacuations to escape storm surge, the wall of water pushed ahead of hurricanes that presents the most serious threat from storms in Florida.
Except for mobile home residents, people living beyond the reach of a storm's surge can stay home.
Although evacuation times went up for the strongest hurricanes, they dropped slightly for less potent storms. The study shows residents needing to evacuate for a Category 1 hurricane would need 16.5 hours, compared with 18 in 2006.
Some of the increase for stronger storms comes from population growth since 2006.
Also, the number of people ordered to evacuate for a Category 5 storm grew by 200,000 when new evacuation zones went into effect this hurricane season, said Betti Johnson, hurricane planner with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.
The new study, part of a statewide revision of evacuation times, won't change when local emergency management officials decide to order people from their homes.
"There would not be a significant change in my decision-making process," said Larry Gispert, director of Hillsborough County emergency management.
"It would not really change things. The process would be the same," said Sally Bishop, emergency management director in Pinellas County.
Because of uncertainties in forecasting a hurricane's path, evacuation orders usually are issued 24 to 30 hours before a storm is supposed to hit, Gispert said.
Things could improve slightly in five years, the study says.
Despite a projected population increase of 125,000 in evacuation zones, the study says evacuating for a Category 5 hurricane would take 57.5 hours because some major transportation projects are scheduled to be finished, Johnson said. This year, 1.97 million people are in evacuation zones or living in mobile homes in the four counties.