Top Hazards

Hazards and Analysis Summary

Table

Top Hazards Affecting Alachua County

Tropical Cyclones (Hurricanes and Tropical Storms)

Although Alachua County is not on the coast, we are still very much at risk from tropical storms and hurricanes. In fact during the last 30 years, inland flooding has been responsible for more than half the deaths associated with tropical cyclones in the United States. Hurricane season lasts from June 1 until November 30 each year.

It is important to note that Alachua County will never be placed under a Hurricane Watch or Warning. Hurricane Watches/Warnings are issued by the Nation Hurricane Center only for the coast. Instead, the National Weather Service will issue an Inland Hurricane Wind Watch or Warning (for winds greater than 73 mph) or an Inland Tropical Storm Wind Watch or Warning (for winds 40 to 73 mph).

Before Hurricane Season (June 1 - November 30):

  • Determine in you live in a potential flood zone. Have flood insurance. Flood damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.
  • Put together an emergency kit with 72 hours of food, water and medicine.
  • Obtain a NOAA weather radio.
  • Create a family emergency plan that includes and evacuation plan in case you must leave.
  • Find out if your home meets current building code requirements for high-winds, and take actions to secure it in the event of a storm. Protect windows by installing commercial shutters or preparing 5/8 inch plywood panels. Reinforce all garage doors so that they are able to withstand high winds.
  • If you do not live in a mobile home or flood-prone area, designate an interior room with no windows or external doors as a 'safe room.'
  • Assess your property to ensure that landscaping and trees do not become a wind hazard. Trim dead wood and weak/overhanging branches from all trees.

 

During Hurricane Season - As the Storm Approaches:

  • Be prepared to evacuate if asked to do so by county officials, especially residents in flood-prone areas or manufactured housing.
  • Secure or bring inside all lawn furniture and other outside objects that could become a projectile in high winds.
  • Board or shutter windows.
  • Stay at home unless you are evacuating. Stay indoors in your 'safe room.' The safest place in your home are small, windowless rooms on the ground floor.
  • Monitor the storm through local media and NOAA weather radio.
  • Beware of tornadoes and flooding that can result from the hurricane.
  • Be aware of the eye of the hurricane-a temporary reduction in wind does not mean the storm is over. Stay in a safe place and do not go outside unless absolutely necessary.

 

Flooding

The primary causes of flooding in Alachua County are tropical systems and afternoon thunderstorms. Some areas of the county are low-lying and subject to flooding from rising water; other areas are at risk from storm-water runoff. Know the flood danger for your home.

Flooding Tips:

 

  • Learn your vulnerability to flooding by determining the elevation of your property. Evaluate your insurance coverage; as construction grows around areas, floodplains change. If you are in a flood area, consider what mitigation measure you can do in advance.
  • In highly flood-prone areas, keep materials on hand like sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting, plastic garbage bags, lumber, shovels, work boots and gloves. Be aware of streams, drainage channels and areas known to flood, so you or your evacuation routes are not cut off.
  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Avoid driving into water of unknown depth. Moving water can quickly sweep your vehicle away.
  • Restrict children from playing in flooded areas.
  • Test drinking water for portability; wells should be pumped out and the water tested before drinking.
  • Do not use fresh food that has come in contact with floodwaters. Wash canned goods that come in contact with floodwaters with soap and hot water.
  • Stay away from downed power line.

 

Hazardous Materials (Transportation, Facilities)

Hazardous materials are common in Alachua County because they are used by industry, business, government and private citizens on a daily basis. If a material, either alone or in combination with other substances, has the potential to damage human life it is considered hazardous.

The following preparedness information is from the North Central Florida Local Emergency Planning Committee and is printed in the front of the local telephone directories.

If told to "PROTECT YOUR BREATHING":

 

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a damp handkerchief or if possible, a large wet bath towel or cloth.

 

If told to "SHELTER IN PLACE":

 

  • Go inside. Stay there until your radio or TV stations report that you may leave.
  • Close all doors and windows. Use masking tape or damp towels to seal the openings if possible.
  • Turn OFF heating, cooling and ventilation systems.
  • Do not use fireplaces. Put out the fire. Close the dampers.
  • Do NOT go to school to pick up your children. They will be safe with school officials who are prepared to take special care of them.
  • Listen to your radio or television stations for further instructions.

 

If told to "EVACUATE":

 

  • Stay as calm as possible.
  • Gather items you and your family will need such as:
    • Extra clothing, eyeglasses, prescription drugs, other important medicines and a first aid kit.
    • Baby and children supplies for at least three (3) days.
    • Portable radio and flashlight.
    • Checkbook, credit cards, drivers license or other identification.
  • Turn OFF the lights and your household appliances. Leave your refrigerator and freezer ON.
  • Move to the place designated by public authorities.
  • When you leave, tie a towel or rag on your front door handle so that law enforcement and rescue personnel will know you are not inside.
  • Keep your car vents and windows closed. Do not use the heater or air conditioner. Drive carefully! Be patient with fellow drivers.
  • If you need a ride go with a friend, relative or neighbor. Ask law enforcement officials for transportation if nothing else is available.
  • If your children have to leave their schools, you will be told by the radio and TV stations where to pick up your child when it is safe.

 

Nuclear Power Plant

parts of Alachua County are in Emergency Planning Zones (EPZ) for two different nuclear power plants. The threat form the University of Florida Training Reactor is limited to the reactor site, and the potential danger from Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant is only from indirect exposure such as ingestion of contaminated food.

If a radiological incident occurs and you are advised to do so by emergency officials:

  • Close and lock home doors and windows.
  • Keep car windows and vents closed; use recirculating air.
  • If you must go outdoors, cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief.
  • If possible, shelter livestock and give them stored feed and protected water supplies. A special effort should be made to protect dairy cows from being contaminated.
  • Wash leafy vegetables, pods and fruits thoroughly. Clean and peel underground vegetables such as potatoes and carrots.
  • Fresh vegetables, cattle feed, milk from grazing cattle and open drinking water sources may need to be tested before consumption. (You will be advised by emergency officials if this action should be taken)
  • If you have just been outdoors, take a thorough shower. Change your clothes and shoes. Put the items you were wearing in a plastic bag. Seal the bag and store it out of the way until you receive official notice of how the items should be handled.
  • If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

 

Civil Disturbance

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), civil disturbance is “a civil unrest activity such as a demonstration, riot, or strike that disrupts a community and requires intervention to maintain public safety.” Civil disturbances, or unrest, can cause a variety of subsequent issues such as violence and assault, disorderly conduct, vandalism.

Mass Migration

Mass migration refers to the migration of large groups of people from one geographical area to another. Mass migration is distinguished from individual or small scale migration; and also from seasonal migration, which may occur on a regular basis.

Extreme Temperatures (Heat/Cold Waves)

Hot Weather

Florida has high temperatures and humidity throughout the summer. The National Weather Service issues Special Weather Statements and/or Public Information Announcements when the combination is too high. Residents should heed these NWS statements in order to help prevent heat-related medical problems.

Heat Wave Safety Tips:

  • Never leave children or pets in a parked car.
  • Slow down. Strenuous activities should be reduced, eliminated, or rescheduled to the coolest time of the day. Individuals at risk should stay in the coolest available place, not necessarily indoors.
  • Dress for summer. Lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight and helps your body maintain normal temperatures.
  • Put less fuels on your inner fires. Foods (like proteins) that increase metabolic heat production also increase water loss.
  • Drink plenty of water or other non-alcoholic fluids. Your body needs water to keep cool. Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don't feel thirsty. Persons who (1) have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease, (2) are on fluid-restrictive diets, or (3) have a problem with fluid retention should consult a physician before increasing their consumption of fluids.
  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages.
  • Do not take salt tablets unless specified by a physician. Persons on salt-restrictive diets should consult a physician before increasing their salt intake.
  • Spend more time in air-conditioned places. Air conditioning in homes and other buildings markedly reduces danger from the heat. If you cannot afford an air conditioner, spending some time each day (during hot weather) in an air-conditioned environment affords some protection.
  • Don't get too much sun. Sunburn makes the job of heat dissipation that much more difficult.

 

Cold Weather

During winter, cold temperatures do impact Alachua County. When freezing temperatures, or low wind chills are expected, the National Weather Service will issue warnings or advisories.

Cold Weather Safety Tips:

  • Stay indoors and use safe heating sources.
  • Be aware of the fire danger from space heaters and candles, keep such devises away from all flammable materials such as curtains and furniture, and install recommended smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Indoors, do not use charcoal or other fuel-burning devices, such as grills that produce carbon monoxide. Install at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home.
  • Outdoors, stay dry and in wind protected areas.
  • Wear multiple layers of loose-fitting warm clothing.
  • Do not remain long in idling vehicles that produce carbon monoxide, especially in a closed garage.
  • Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids and eat high-caloric foods.
Wildland Fires (Brush, Forest, and Wildfires)

Florida's typical wildfire season is the dry period from January to May, additionally lightning may start fires during thunderstorm season. Unfortunately since the majority of fires are started by humans, wildfires can occur at anytime.

Before a wildfire threatens:

  • Create a 30 to 100 foot safety zone around your house by removing leaves, flammable vegetation and dead branches.
  • Clear a 10 foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue.
  • Thin a 15 foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.

 

When a wildfire threatens:

  • Park your car facing the direction of escape.
  • Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate.
  • If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

 

If you're sure you have time, take steps to protect your home:

  • Close windows, vents, doors, venetian blinds or non-combustible window coverings and heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains and flammable drapes.
  • Close gas valves and turn off pilot lights.
  • Move flammable furniture into the center of the home away from windows and sliding-glass doors.
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks. Wet the roof.
  • Wet shrubs within 15 feet of home.
  • Place combustible patio furniture inside.
  •  

Severe Weather (Thunderstorms)

Although all thunderstorms are dangerous and can be lethal, about 10 percent produce dangerous winds or hail that will likely exceed thresholds known to cause significant damage to well-built structures or cause bodily harm. These are known as severe thunderstorms. Severe thunderstorms produce hail the size of a dime or larger and/or winds of 58 miles per hour or greater. The National Weather Service issues Severe Thunderstorm Warnings for a particular county, or portions of it, when the above conditions are expected to be met or are ongoing.

Lightning kills more people annually in Florida than all other weather hazards combined. Anytime you are outdoors in Florida, you are at risk of being struck by lightning.

Thunderstorms

 

  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Listen for Severe Thunderstorm Watches and Warnings.
  • When severe thunderstorms threaten, go to a small interior room on the lowest floor of your home, school or business. Avoid windows.
  • To improve your odds at reducing loss of life or injury from severe thunderstorm winds, follow this rule of thumb: 'put as many walls between you and the outside wind'.
  • In vehicles, avoid driving into severe thunderstorms. Consider pulling over or delaying travel.
  • Prior to a severe thunderstorm, move vehicles into garages or carports to help prevent damage, time permitting.

Lightning

  • Go inside a building or an automobile, but not a convertible or a golf cart.
  • Avoid water (swimming pools, lakes and rivers), beaches and boats.
  • Stay away from doors, windows, metal indoor fixtures and electrical devices.
  • Stay off the telephone.
  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Avoid open high ground and isolated large trees.
  • Do not lean on vehicles.
  • Get off bicycles and motorcycles.
Severe Weather (Tornadoes)

For Homes:

  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • When a tornado watch is issued, be prepared to take action.
  • When a tornado warning is issued, or a tornado is imminent, move to a small interior room away from windows.
  • Consider constructing a tornado safe room in or adjacent to your home.

 


For Manufactured Housing:

  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Have a plan of where to go during a tornado threat - a nearby pre-identified safe structure within walking distance.
  • When a tornado watch is issued, be prepared to take action.
  • When conditions warrant, move to the pre-identified safe structure.
  • If you live in a mobile or manufactured home park, get together with other residents and the park owner / manager to designate safe shelter areas in the park or community.

 


For Open Country:

  • Seek a nearby shelter if time permits.
  • If not, lie flat in the nearest depression, a ditch or culvert. Cover your head with your arms.

 


For Vehicles:

  • Abandon your vehicle and seek refuge in a building or, as a last resort, a ditch or culvert.
  • Do not try to outrun a tornado.

 


For Offices, Condos, and Hotels:

  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio.
  • When action is required, take shelter in an interior hallway on a lower floor, closet or small room.
  • As a last resort,get under heavy furniture, away from windows.

 


For Schools and Auditoriums:

  • Have a written disaster plan, assign responsibilities and exercise elements of the plan on a regular basis.
  • Get weather awareness training for staff - The National Weather Service can provide this.
  • Designate tornado safe areas.
  • Monitor NOAA Weather Radio - check the alert tests weekly.
  • During watches, monitor several sources of information.
  • Hold tornado drills at least four times each year.
  • Announce watches when issued.
  • Evacuate vulnerable areas such as temporary classrooms and classrooms with glass windows when threatening weather and /or tornadoes approach during a tornado watch.
  • Consider delayed departures from school if severe weather threatens.
  • Schools and parents need to have a reunification plan in place.

 


Safe Rooms:

 

Drought

A drought is a period of unusually dry weather that persists long enough to cause serious problems such as crop damage and/or water supply shortages. The severity of the drought depends upon the degree of moisture deficiency, the duration and the size of the affected area.

Bordered by two oceans, Florida has the longest coastline in the continental United States, the second largest lake in the nation - Lake Okeechobee and 50,000 miles of rivers, streams and waterways. Our waters define our state. Yet, with all of the water that surrounds us, Florida is still susceptible to drought. Records show 2006 - 2007 were the driest back-to-back calendar years Florida has experienced, based on data dating back to 1932.

Parts of Alachua County are now classified under severe drought conditions.

With over 90 percent of the state of Florida considered to be in a drought, the National Drought Mitigation Center classified the situation in 2017 as “severe” in nine counties, including Alachua.

Land Subsidence and Sinkholes

Sinkholes are a natural and common geological occurrence in North-Central Florida. They are formed when rain dissolves underground limestone or when surface materials collapse into underlying cavities in the rock. Sinkholes form most frequently during periods of heavy rain, especially after a dry period. In Alachua County, sinkholes are most prevalent in the western and central parts of the county.

If a Sinkhole Forms:

  • Call 911 immediately if it is a life-threatening situation.
  • Keep children away.
  • Place a fence, rope or tape around it. Property owners usually are held liable if someone is hurt in a sinkhole.
  • Do not throw any type of waste into a sinkhole, and do not use it as a drainage system. Pesticides, oils, chemicals and other wastes seep easily through sinkhole sand into the aquifer where your drinking water comes from.
  • Watch for signs of sinkhole enlargement, especially toward buildings, septic tanks, drain fields and wells. Sinkholes follow the path of least resistance.

 

Terrorism

The National Terrorism Advisory System, or NTAS, replaces the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). This new system will more effectively communicate information about terrorist threats by providing timely, detailed information to the public, government agencies, first responders, airports and other transportation hubs, and the private sector. It recognizes that Americans all share responsibility for the nation’s security, and should always be aware of the heightened risk of terrorist attack in the United States and what they should do.

Threats posed by terrorist can come in many forms. Actions taken to respond during an emergency can depend on the hazards of each threat. Learn more about the different types of terrorist threats and what to do if one were to occur:

  • US Department of Homeland Security
    • www.ready.gov
  • Florida Initiative Against Homeland Terrorism
    • How Should Florida Prepare for Terrorism (PDF)

 

Alachua County Sheriff's iWatch

iWatch is a community awareness program created to help educate the public about behaviors and activities that may have a connection to terrorism. This program is a community program to help your area stay safe from terrorism. To report suspicious activity or to learn more about iWatch, click here.

Biological Events (Exotic Pests and Disease)

In the summer months and into fall, people in Alachua County can contract two potentially fatal diseases from mosquito bites. They are: Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus (WNV). Fatality rates are 40% for EEE and 15% for WNV. Onset is acute with headache, fever, altered mental status, delirium, coma, and death. There is no treatment for the disease. Horses are also affected; however, a vaccine is available for both diseases for equines.

Prevention at the personal level is the key to not acquiring a mosquito borne disease both here and in any area. Most of the mosquitoes that transmit encephalitis (not all mosquitoes transmit diseases of any type) feed primarily at dusk and at dawn.

Mosquito Borne Disease Prevention Tips:

  • Limit your activities during the prime feeding hours for these species of mosquitoes.
  • If you are out at theses times, wear barrier clothing such as long sleeve shirts, pants and socks.
  • Use of mosquito repellant containing DEET in accordance with manufacturer's directions (more is not necessarily better).
  • Control of mosquito breeding sites around the home and play areas. This includes plants that naturally hold water, pots, wading pools, tires, and clogged gutters.
  • Maintain screening to prevent mosquito entry.

 

While other animals can be infected, the viruses do not pose a problem for them. Birds, which serve as amplifiers of the virus, can die from West Nile. If you find a dead bird (particularly crows and blue jays), please contact the Alachua County Health Department, Environmental Health Section at 352-334-7931.

If you have any other questions regarding encephalitis, please contact the Alachua County Health Department, Epidemiology Section at 352-334-7981.

Disease (Pandemic, Outbreak, Influenza)

An influenza pandemic occurs when a novel and highly contagious strain of the influenza virus emerges, affecting populations around the world. Historically, influenza pandemics have occurred every 11-39 years. It has been more than 30 years since the last pandemic. Many experts consider influenza pandemic to be inevitable, yet no one knows when the next one will occur.

Florida's geographic and demographic characteristics make it particularly vulnerable to importation and spread of infectious diseases, including influenza. Nearly one third of Florida's population resides in urban/suburban areas of 3 southeastern counties, including large populations of immigrants. Florida's two Interstate road systems bring in thousands of tourists each year. The two largest of the 13 international airports are in Orlando and Miami; 38,000,000 visitors used air travel in year 2000.

The Department of Health has estimated that an influenza pandemic could result in Florida of up to 10 million persons infected, with 5 million chronically ill. An estimated 3 million persons may require outpatient care with an additional 71,000 hospitalizations and up to 18,000 deaths. Demands on health care services under these conditions would overwhelm the state's delivery system. Shifts in human and material resources that are normally executed during other natural disasters will not be possible since outbreaks are expected to occur simultaneously throughout much of the U.S.

It is expected that effective preventive and therapeutic measures - including vaccines and antiviral agents - will be in short supply, as may some antibiotics used for treatment of secondary infections. Existing medical facilities may be quickly overwhelmed, requiring the use of non-traditional medical settings. Healthcare workers and other first responders will likely be at even higher risk of exposure and illness than the general population, further impeding the care of victims. In addition, communications systems are likely to be overwhelmed.

An influenza pandemic preparedness plan has been developed to ensure that Florida is prepared to implement an effective response before the next pandemic arrives. Florida has been participating with a number of other states in an initiative to develop state influenza pandemic plans, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with funding from the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists. The purpose of this plan is to provide a guide for the Florida Department of Health (DOH) and other state and local agencies on detecting and responding to an influenza pandemic. The plan describes disease surveillance, emergency management, vaccine delivery, laboratory and communications activities, as well as how multiple agencies should work together to respond to such an event.

Critical Infrastructure Disruption (Computer, Telecommunication, and Utilities)

Critical infrastructure refers to processes, systems, facilities, technologies, networks, assets and services essential to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of citizens and the effective functioning of government. Critical infrastructure can be stand-alone or interconnected and interdependent within and across provinces, territories and national borders. Disruptions of critical infrastructure could result in catastrophic loss of life, adverse economic effects, and significant harm to public confidence.

Major Transportation Incidents (Non-Hazmat)

Transportation Incidents refers to road accidents, rail accidents, incidents involving commercial/military aircraft, maritime disasters, shipwrecks, aircraft disasters, and airship accidents.



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