PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (August 18, 2020) – A Category 5 hurricane with a direct hit on the Tampa Bay region could cause as many as 40% of area small businesses to permanently close. As the 2020 hurricane season unfolds, a new project created by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is designed to help those businesses get adequately prepared for such a storm.
If a hurricane hits, storm surge plus significant rain can damage or destroy major roadways, power sources, essential infrastructure, business centers and homes, in turn making it impossible for small businesses to survive if they haven’t done proper advance planning.
Over the past year, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has updated its Project Phoenix model to estimate the impact of a Category 5 hurricane with a direct hit on the Tampa Bay area. The counties studied in both iterations of Project Phoenix were Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas.
Project Phoenix 2.0 estimates that 60% of small business commercial structures in six Tampa Bay area counties would be severely damaged or destroyed in a Category 5 hurricane storm surge. More than 103,679 buildings of the six counties’ 1.35 million buildings would be severely damaged or destroyed, an increase from 92,827 buildings in 2009. The total estimated cost of structural damage from storm surge increased 64% from $28.5 billion to $46.9 billion between 2009 and 2020.
Greater population density and increased development near the coast are two contributing factors for the higher estimates. The first study used projected Census 2000 population data, and the latest study used projected Census 2010 population data. In addition, higher intensity storms are a factor, including using an updated SLOSH model. As a result, projected storm surge, at its highest, from such a storm on the same track was 42 feet in the new projection compared to 38 feet in 2009.
Now, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is rolling out a tabletop exercise to help emergency management officials and business groups prepare their communities for a worst-case hurricane disaster.
“Project Phoenix 2.0: The Recovery” focuses on local recovery and resiliency in the year following a storm. The original Project Phoenix was developed in 2010 to validate the Tampa Bay Catastrophic Plan, which was created to address the challenges of response and recovery related to a catastrophic event in the Tampa Bay area.
Project Phoenix 2.0 includes a series of videos created by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (tbrpc.org/phoenix/) that offers a chilling look at the catastrophic impacts a Category 5 storm would have on the region.
The first video simulates “Hurricane Phoenix” forming in the Gulf of Mexico, small businesses throughout the Tampa Bay region getting prepared, the moment of impact, and the aftermath of the storm. Other videos feature stories from business owners who experienced the devastation of 2018’s Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida. This approach demonstrates how one region in Florida can support and learn from another, so if a “Hurricane Phoenix” does come, the Tampa Bay region can be ready.
“Business closures of the type that would occur after a Category 5 storm would have a long-lasting, widespread economic impact on the region,” said Sean Sullivan, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. “If local businesses do a good job of planning and preparing, it makes a big difference on how well they get through a disaster.”
Business owners should take steps today to prepare for a storm, Sullivan said, and even people who have weathered many hurricane warnings still need to think about how to best prepare for the possibility of a direct hit from a tropical storm or hurricane.
Through Project Phoenix, business owners can learn important information on how to create continuity plans, evaluate insurance needs, develop human resource plans, and protect the business’ property and facilities. These steps are critical in helping them maintain or quickly reestablish business operations should a catastrophic storm hit the Tampa Bay region.
About Project Phoenix
Project Phoenix 2.0: The Recovery was created by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council with support by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Economic Development Administration, and in coordination with emergency management staff from Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Critical Integrated Solutions, Inc. and Frame – A Production Company provided exercise design, facilitation and technical services. View the videos, storm surge and wind impact maps, and presentation materials at tbrpc.org/phoenix/.
About the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council
Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council brings together governments to coordinate planning for the community’s future and provide an opportunity for sharing solutions among the local government jurisdictions in the Tampa Bay region. TBRPC works with six counties and 21 municipalities as they make long-range plans related to the future of the Tampa Bay region. The Council’s work focuses on resiliency, planning for climate change and sea level rise, environmental management, water quality, emergency preparedness planning, protection and restoration of the Tampa Bay estuary, economic analysis, coastal zone management, housing and infrastructure analysis, development of regional impact review, local government comprehensive plan reviews, cross acceptance, dispute resolution and reviews of transportation plans.