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Site offers hurricane preparedness plan
OneStorm promises customized storm plan for residents in hurricane-prone areas.



BY P.J. HELLER | ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. | August 6, 2007
When Chris Bennett moved to Florida, one of his goals was to make sure he was prepared for hurricane season.

"My instinct was to go online and find what types of resources were out there to tell me what I needed to do, what I needed to prepare, what I needed to purchase, basically from start to finish what resources were available to me," he said.

What he said he discovered was that the information was available on the Web, but it was spread among various sites and navigating to it often was difficult.

"Unfortunately I did not find much out there," Bennett recalled. "There really just wasn't a site devoted to and centered around the issue of family hurricane preparedness."

Bennett set out to change that, developing the Web site www.onestorm.org as a one-stop location where people living in hurricane-prone areas could create a customized hurricane plan for their specific needs.

Bennett, along with his business partners, designed the site to incorporate information and recommendations from the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as from local and state emergency management agencies. Listed as advisers to the site are Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center, Bryan Norcross, hurricane analyst for CBS News and author of Hurricane Almanac, and Ada R. Monzon, chief meteorologist for Univision Puerto Rico.

The site requires a user to spend about 10 to 15 minutes entering personal information – including name, address, age, medications taken, pets and so on – then provides a shopping list of items required during a storm. The user indicates whether those items are on hand, need to be added or if they are not applicable.

"Instead of just showing you a checklist, we make the user acknowledge they either have the item or don't have the item," Bennett explained. "Every item they marked as 'I don't have this' gets put into a dynamic shopping list that they can print out at the end of the plan and rather than having a list of 100 items - everything that somebody needs – it might just show the 30 items that the person hasn't purchased already.

"We face the reality that most people do not prepare and we're trying to make it as easy and as straightforward as possible," he said.

The site also will show locations of the nearest evacuation shelters to the address entered and offers to provide user information to emergency managers responsible for disaster planning in their area.

Bennett said what sets his site apart from others - notably www.floridadisaster.org which also offers hurricane plans for families and businesses - is the fact that OneStorm covers more than one state and was designed to keep people updated and reminded about hurricane safety issues.

Users, for example, can receive reminders every two weeks to purchase items that they indicated they did not have in their emergency supply kits. After purchasing one or more of those items, they can then log back into the site to update their shopping list. They can also request tips tailored to their plan, such as articles about pet-friendly hurricane shelters if they indicate they own a pet.

Bennett said future plans call for a notification system for approaching storms.

"Basically, you enter a Zip code or address and as soon as the National Hurricane Center releases a forecast, it (the system) will calculate what your risk is and send a text message, e-mail or possibly make a phone call . . . and will continue to update them as the forecast changes," he said

"What OneStorm offers that others don't is an online community where, with your account, you can sign in at any time, review your plan, update it when you get new information and more items in your kit and also be part of a community where if a storm is headed for your county, OneStorm is going to send you an alert that says. 'A storm is headed for your county. Here are items you still don't have in your kit. Go out and get them and be prepared,"' Bennett said.

"It's really communicating with people regularly and making them part of the preparedness community as opposed to just presenting them with a list of information which is typically what the others do," he said. "I like to use the phrase that we're really trying to instill and create a culture of preparedness in our communities."

The site advises users, however, that it "does not provide disaster preparedness or planning advice" and that the contents are for "informational purposes only."

"The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional disaster preparedness, response, recovery or planning advice," it said. "Always seek the advice of your local emergency management officer with any questions you may have regarding disaster preparedness. Never disregard professional disaster preparedness advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the OneStorm site."

The OneStorm site displays no advertising. A companion blog site, www.hurricanepreparedness.org, contains information on products and where to buy them. Publix Super Markets, which has 907 stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee, is a "community partner" with OneStorm.org and links to the Web site. OneStorm also provides a fee-based hurricane preparedness consultant service for businesses.

Since launching the OneStorm site in May 2005, Bennett said users have signed up throughout Florida as well as along the Gulf Coast to southern Texas and along the Eastern seaboard including North Carolina and Delaware.

No hurricanes have occurred since the site began, which Bennett said keeps preparedness "on the back burner" among the public.

"They just forget how devastating these things can be," he said, adding that he hopes the Web site will make getting prepared a regular routine for the public.

Bennett, himself, has never been through a hurricane, having lived in Philadelphia before moving to St. Petersburg. He said he doesn't place much stock in predictions of how many hurricanes may hit in a given season.

"The whole idea behind our name OneStorm is that it only takes that one storm that affects you to make it a bad hurricane season," he said. "I don't care if there's 15 storms or one storm, I'm concerned about the one storm that hits me."

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