Has Panama City dodged a bullet?

By Jim Wallace - bio | email 

Panama City Beach, FL.  (WALB) –   City and business leaders want you to know that so far the news is good, and they're feeling more optimistic that this oil crisis will not hit their beaches, but they have done a lot of preparation in case it does.

Panama City Beach officials are hoping that the capping procedure will work, and officials think that if it does this beach will be spared.  But Panama City Beach has been preparing in case of the worst, and have opened their new emergency operation center in that effort.

They are using  the latest technology to keep a close eye on the gulf crisis at Bay County's new state of the art emergency operation center.

"This is a brand new facility and this is the first emergency situation that we've used it for.  We thought it would be a hurricane, but it's a little bit different situation.  But we're prepared," said Bay County Public Information Officer Valerie Lovett.

This center is tied into the Coast Guard and National Emergency centers up and down the coast, getting the latest information and strategy in this crisis.

The Coast Guard already had an emergency plan for an oil spill prepared, with geographical points around Panama City Beach where oil booms would be used to try and keep out the oil.  But when the emergency became real, Panama City Beach officials have spent the last week going over that plan, and adding to it.

"We are looking at purchasing additional boom," Lovett said.  "We're looking at some additional options for keeping this oil off our beautiful white sandy beaches.  If we can do that.  We are certainly planning for the worst, but hoping for the best."

More than 800 people in the community have signed up with the Red Cross as volunteers in case they are needed.  If the oil does spread this far east, those volunteers will be called to help put out the booms and skimmers where needed, and clean the beaches.  They will all be directed from their new emergency operation center.

Of course officials here are hoping that BP's attempt to cap the Deep Water Horizon well tomorrow will be successful.  Coast Guard officials are working to keep the oil off the shore, and thousands of business owners and tourists wanting to come to these beaches are praying that it works.

Panama City Beach convention and visitor's bureau officials say the number of tourists in town is less, because of the gulf crisis.   There is a new 24 hour cancellation policy in effect at most motels, so that you can go ahead and book your vacation, and can watch the oil crisis without worry.

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