(MCT) — Karen Windon still gets chills when she thinks back on Hurricane Charley.
"We were right in the cross-hairs for a long time as Charley barreled up the Gulf of Mexico," Windon recalled Tuesday.
Windon, now a deputy administrator for Manatee County, Fla., was the county's public safety director in 2004.
"For me, it was a mixture of tense moments, and swelling pride, knowing we had such a committed team at the emergency operations center at that time," Windon said.
Although Manatee County escaped much of Charley's fury, with a historic right turn that directed it northeast through Punta Gorda and Arcadia on Aug. 13, 2004, it proved to be a game changer.
It changed the local public perception of hurricanes from something to ride out to knowing there could be a dangerous killer on the loose. And Charley put emergency managers on notice that they needed to step up their games.
Manatee County officials got serious about building a stand-alone, hardened emergency operations center that could withstand such natural disaster as a hurricane. Officials moved ahead with plans for a new Public Safety Center that might otherwise have languished on a wish list for years.