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Extra precautions focus on students
If a hurricane turns toward South Florida, safety officials say they'll still have plenty of warning to make sure children aren't in school.
Being caught away from your children in a storm is a frightening scenario for parents. Safety experts say modern storm prediction almost ensures that scenario won't happen.
"New parents call up and I say when a hurricane comes about, they're going to be home in plenty of time," said Jerry Graziose, Broward schools safety director. "We have plenty of time, there's no situation when the children are in school." The most recent storm didn't affect classes at all.
Still, in October 1999, Hurricane Irene caught many in South Florida flat-footed. Forecasters had expected the storm to scoot up the state's west coast, but instead the system shot across the extreme northwestern section of Broward and diagonally split Palm Beach in half.
Luckily, school was not in session during Irene, which hit on a Friday evening; that Friday was a teacher's workday in both counties and students stayed home.
School officials say they would not allow students come to school if conditions similar to Irene's were in place on a regular class day.
In fact, a priority for county emergency managers and government hurricane forecasters is to consider schools and children when posting hurricane warnings and watches. The reasons are twofold. First, authorities don't want the kind of public confusion that could arise by parents dashing to schools in search of their kids.
Second, the schools need to be cleared of students so the buildings can be converted to public shelters.
This year, hurricane shelters for the general public won't be at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach or Deerfield Beach High School in Deerfield Beach. Instead, the shelters have been moved to new elementary and middle schools that have been constructed with designated areas for hurricane protection.
"They are designed to do very well" in a storm, Graziose said.
In a storm, high schools would be the first to close, then middle and elementary schools. The goal is to get older kids home first to care for siblings, and give radio and television media time to broadcast the news so parents can pick up their young ones.