MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Until two days ago, many people thought Tampa would be a refuge from Hurricane Irma. But now, it looks as though the city could be in the direct path of the storm. We've reached Tampa fire chief and emergency manager, Tom Ford, to find out more about how things are going and about the city's preparations. Chief, thank you so much for speaking with us.
TOM FORWARD: Thank you for having us.
MARTIN: The hurricane's expected to pass over your city later this evening. So what are you doing now to prepare?
FORWARD: Right now, we're still in a high state of readiness, with our emergency operations center working fully staffed. We've got a number of emergency response centers that are throughout the city that are also poised to manage issues out there. Obviously, it'll be post-storm. We're still getting some pretty good gusts of wind coming into the city at this time, with some sporadic rain that has been continuous all day. We're monitoring all of the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center with regular around the clock - different programs with that as well. But right now, our city and our law enforcement is managing the roadways. And at this point, we have to consider that all of our folk are in place, hunkered down and waiting for the worst, which is supposed to happen in the next couple of hours.
MARTIN: Given that - as we've been talking about throughout the hour, the trajectory of this storm has changed. It was initially expected to hit the east coast, and now it's expected to go over to the west coast. And I wondered whether you have seen an influx of people from the other side of the state that you - has there been an influx of evacuees coming to Tampa and not thinking that it would be the worst hit?
FORWARD: We have had that. We did. We have had a number - have come into the Tampa Bay community. And we know that we have over 72,000 that are in shelters right now in the county area as well. But everybody is - for the most part, we're as ready as our resources will allow us to be. And all we can do now is hope for the best and be prepared to respond to whatever this storm delivers for us.
MARTIN: What are you asking Tampa residents to do now?
FORWARD: Again, we're asking them to stay indoors, stay hunkered down. Adhere to all of the suggestions that are being made by the local officials and all of those things. We've got two bridges that are already shut down, but we shouldn't have a whole lot of traffic out there now at this point. But we want everybody to stay in and do not come out even after the storm has passed because we're also expecting some tremendous storm surge to move into our community, especially in the - and that's a very heavily populated area of the city of Tampa.
MARTIN: So when should people come out? Will you give some sort of an all-clear or some sort of a message when you think it's safe to come out?
FORWARD: Absolutely. The mayor and all of the officials - city officials have already - we've been on all of our social medias. We've been on our local broadcast, communicating to our public that do not come out until they hear an all-clear from the mayor or from elected officials and repeal the urge to want to get out in this because there's still some dangers that they may not be aware of.
MARTIN: But, Chief, before we let you go, we only have about a minute left. I must say you sound very calm. And I was wondering how it is that you prepare yourself for a challenge like this?
FORWARD: Well, I've had the privilege of managing Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response for over 35 years, all the way from Hurricane Andrew in Homestead and South Florida 25 years ago and these. But us officials have to stay calm because our - we know that our communities take vibes from us. So it's imperative that we let them know that our community is as fit and as healthy as they can with respect to preparedness and response. And but for the grace of God, you know, we have to - we can't control Mother Nature, but we can control our states of readiness and our responses immediately after that. So that's what we have to operate on.
MARTIN: All right. That's Tom Forward. He's Tampa's fire chief and emergency manager. Chief, thank you so much for speaking with us. Good luck to you and to the city.
FORWARD: Thanks for having us. You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.