TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) – In four days, as many as 50,000 visitors are expected to descend on Tampa for the Republican National Convention in which presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney will get the official nod.
One hitch in their plans is the threat posed by Tropical Storm Isaac which is barreling towards Florida.
On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott said it will be up to national Republican Party officials to decide whether or not to cancel the Tampa event. Scott said no one knows exactly how the storm will impact Florida.
Scott said that RNC officials will be in constant contact with state, local and federal officials to make sure that they have the latest information on the storm, which could hit the Florida Keys and then move up along the west coast of the state.
“Local teams will make evacuation plans for their areas depending on what happens,” Scott said during the first of two scheduled updates Thursday. “The convention will make its own decision. The goal is that you have everybody together, we’ll have the same information and can coordinate our efforts and work together.”
State emergency managers will hold twice daily briefings with convention organizers and local responders starting today in an effort to ensure that everyone has up-to-date information.
Scott plans to activate the state’s emergency operations center later Thursday and will hold more regular updates in the days leading up to the convention, which runs through next week.
“This is the convention’s decision,” Scott said. “They will work with the city. They will work with the county. They will work with the state. By having these briefings, everybody will all have the same information so I don’t think we will have any confusion.”
On Wednesday, Florida’s director of emergency management, Bryan Koon, said portions of the Tampa Bay area are located in mandatory evacuation zones. Convention visitors would be expected to comply with local evacuation directives if they’re ordered, Koon said.
Scott is scheduled to speak at the convention Monday evening, but said he will decide later in the week if he will be available. Four years ago, then-Gov. Charlie Crist skipped the Republican convention in Minnesota because of Hurricane Gustav in Florida.
“I’m responsible for the 19 million people who live here and the visitors,” Scott said. “That’s what my focus will be.”
Following an inadequate response to Hurricane Andrew 20 years ago this week, Florida officials have spent tens of millions on emergency response and set up a command system that links local, state and federal agencies together.
Earlier this year, emergency managers conducted a hurricane exercise that focused on a category 3 hurricane hitting the Tampa Bay region during the convention.
While national attention has focused on the RNC, Scott said the track of the storm can change dramatically over the next several days. Nearly all of Florida is currently within the storm’s potential path.
“This state is prepared,” Scott said. “We’ve gone through hurricanes.”
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