With the beginning of hurricane season Thursday, officials in Pinellas County are encouraging residents to check what their evacuation levels are because they may have changed since last year.
Thanks to updated storm surge maps, some people are now either more or less likely to evacuate in a hurricane.
Sally Bishop, the director of Pinellas County Emergency Management, said more than 85,000 properties changed evacuation levels, with almost 75,000 now evacuating sooner than before.
In addition, another 20,000 properties changed from a non-evacuation zone to an evacuation zone.
"So it's really critical that our citizens get online with our tools, call the office, use our interactive voice response system. There's a multitude of ways for them to check their evac zones, but the fact that they check it so they know what it is for 2017 going forward," Bishop said.
Bishop adds that the change means around 10 public shelters that previously were not in an evacuation zone are now in D and E zones - the last areas to evacuate when storm surge hits up to 28 to 35 feet.
"So you're talking a major, major hurricane that requires a level D or E evacuation," she said.
The county also rolled out its new "Ready Pinellas" app, which will help residents who would like to plan for hurricane season now.
"I like to call it our ‘just in time’ app or your ‘plan in your pocket’ app," Bishop said. "It’s location-based, so if you’ve got your location services turned on on your mobile device, it’ll tell you what the evacuation zone is at the location that you’re at."
"If it’s an actual storm event, it’ll tell you if we’ve ordered an evacuation level and what level we’ve ordered," she added. "It consolidates all these other tools on our website into a convenient mobile app so you can check your evacuation level there, you can go see how much storm surge would be expected at that location through our storm surge protector app.
"You can monitor social media through it. You can use our checklists while you’re out at the stores and be checking off, right on the app, that you’ve gotten those items done. "
Pinellas County residents can find their evacuation zone by visiting www.PinellasCounty.org/KnowYourZone.
The new app can also be downloaded free for Apple or Android mobile devices by searching "Ready Pinellas" in your app store or by going to www.pinellascounty.org/emergency.