The construction of new public schools across Florida has contributed to a significant increase in the number of hurricane shelter spaces, according to a plan approved Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet.
The Division of Emergency Management presented its updated statewide emergency plan to the cabinet at a meeting held at a Florida Keys elementary school.
A combination of hurricane shelter surveys, retrofitting existing schools and building new schools to meet shelter design criteria has created more than 939,000 public shelter spaces over the last 12 years, emergency management officials said. More than half of those spaces were created through the construction of new public schools.
Statewide, 37 counties now have a surplus of shelter spaces for the general population and people with special needs, officials said. Those counties include Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Brevard and Orange counties, along with counties in Florida’s Panhandle.
Southwestern Florida continues to have a shortage of shelter spaces due to its vulnerability to storm surge, officials said.
Sitting behind child-drawn posters with the slogans “Be Safe” and “Get Ready,” Scott reminded residents that this year is the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew making landfall as a Category 5 storm.
“Hurricane Andrew should be a reminder to all Floridians that preparing for hurricane season is crucial,” Scott said.
Florida’s emergency management chief, Bryan Koon, said Monroe County, which encompasses the Keys island chain, is the most vulnerable county in both the state and the country.
The other members of the Florida Cabinet are Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
The cabinet also approved bonds to fund the construction of new dormitories at Florida International University, the University of Florida and Florida A&M. The members also approved allocating $50 million for the construction of sewage collection, treatment and disposal facilities in the Keys.
Scott said the meeting at Stanley Switlik Elementary School in Marathon was the cabinet’s first ever at a school. Scott listened to students’ presentations on boat safety, hurricane hazards and the upcoming Memorial Day holiday before touring several classrooms.
Bondi left the meeting early to tend to a family member she said had fallen and was in surgery.
Later Tuesday, Scott planned to help release a rehabilitated sea turtle into the waters off Marathon.
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