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Brittany Perkins Castillo: Intensified hurricane seasons create need for better preparedness by public, gov’t

The reality is that all of us are facing a future of more storms, and more powerful storms.

Florida’s inviting year-round climate is one reason many of our 21 million residents live here and why so many people move from frigid climes to the Sun Belt. Our paradise is punctuated each year by the serious reality of every hurricane season, bringing dangerous storms in higher frequency and greater intensity.

And for this year, we’re entering the most active period of an unusually active hurricane season.

Natives and newcomers alike can be sure of two things: We all need to be prepared for hurricane season — and yet no one is truly, totally prepared for the devastation of a hurricane.

In each of the last four years, a Category 5 status storm at some point impacted the United States, and Hurricane Laura was a Cat 4 when it made landfall in Louisiana last month.

As storms have become more powerful and more frequent, residents of hurricane-prone states have improved their readiness. But there is so much more that individuals and communities can and should do to prepare.

As CEO of the nation’s foremost turnkey rapid-response disaster recovery contractors, I see two distinct eras of hurricane preparation and response: before Hurricane Andrew devastated the Miami area in 1992, and ever since. In the years after that Category 5 powerhouse barreled into South Florida with 165 mph winds, so much changed — building codes were overhauled, local governments and private citizens paid closer attention to warnings, and state governments modernized their emergency management operations.

A new sector emerged in private industry: companies that contract with governments to provide a wide range of services the governments cannot perform themselves. It’s everything from rushing food and water to devastated communities to short-term housing and debris removal, and much more.

In fact, our company was founded to help in response to Hurricane Andrew and is now the federal government’s largest disaster response contractor.

To be sure, individual residents play the most important role in preparing for hurricanes and minimizing their impact. It’s never too early, for example, to remove unwanted trees from your property or secure roof shingles that could become dangerous missiles launched by hurricane-force winds.

We’re also seeing more local governments adopting what had been a state-level approach to disaster preparation. As these increasingly powerful storms leave even bigger cleanup challenges across larger footprints of our state, a growing number of local governments are engaging the helpful services of disaster response companies in advance to handle the really big jobs, which allows public officials to focus more directly on other immediate needs of their residents and communities.

Many local governments have only limited resources and personnel to handle really big cleanup jobs, and growing numbers of taxpayers are recognizing the importance of getting life back to normal as quickly as possible. A new survey from the hurricane preparedness initiative “Get Ready, Florida!” found that more than two-thirds of Sunshine State voters would support their city or county investing tax dollars in advance for contracted cleanup services — if it meant resources could be deployed immediately to clear massive debris and help things return to normal sooner.

The reality is that all of us are facing a future of more storms, and more powerful storms. We must all do what we can to fortify our homes and our communities against the inevitable impacts. For individual residents and local governments alike, it is never too early to prepare. But at any time, it could become too late.

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Brittany Perkins Castillo is CEO of AshBritt Environmental, a nationally renowned rapid-response disaster recovery contractor. She and the company are based in Deerfield Beach.

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