High Rise, High Risk: Part 2

By  | 

With the amount of construction going on along the coast, the population density has doubled, if not tripled, and the more people, the more risk when it comes to evacuating the beaches in the event of a major hurricane.

Before the condo boom, Panama City Beach was lined with shorefront snack shacks and two story mom-and-pop motels.

Now, these sights and far and few between, literally between, with new 20 and 30 story condominiums dotting our shoreline.

Some people say the two-lane roads like Front Beach Road aren't ready for such rapid growth. There are concerns about how everyone will get out in the event of a major hurricane.

Instead of a motel which could hold 200 people, some of the newer condos can hold more than 1,000 people. That's five times as many people to move in case of a hurricane.

"It's a big problem not only evacuating people, but it's the traffic you're gonna find getting the people into a safe area."

Bay County Emergency Operations officials say they are constantly adjusting their evacuation plan.

"We monitor the rate of development out there. We look at the number of units being constructed. We look at the average number of people the developments should produce, and the number of trips of the road system and how that impacts the road system, and what that does is adjusts our clearance time and tells us how much before the landfall of a hurricane we need to have an evacuation started and stopped."

Fire in a condo is always a concern of the Panama City Beach Fire Department. The more condos you have, the greater the chance of a high-rise fire.

"Most of the high-rises are fully sprinklered and have a stand pipe system which lets us go to the top floor hook into the standpipe in the staircase and extend our hose out on the fire floor and extinguish the rooms that way."

Fire trucks are equipped to perform even with a loss of power from a storm.

"We can still pump up through the system with the fire truck they're designed for that. All high-rises have a backup generator for emergency power and for the elevator and for the fire system suppression."

The Panama City Beach Fire Department recently ordered its first ladder truck. This is a really neat piece of equipment. The ladder reaches 105 feet both up and down, so if they needed to reach someone who went over the side of a bridge they can extend the platform and ladder to the water. The truck is expected to arrive in the upcoming year, and just to put the value of this engine into perspective, each fire truck costs $1 million.