Have a plan, prepare your home and if you have to evacuate don’t forget your hurricane toolkit.
That was the message at a hurricane preparedness seminar at the First Presbyterian Church of Bonita Springs last week.
A forecaster from the National Hurricane Center, county officials and building professionals who specialize in hurricane preparedness spoke to a group of 30 Bonita residents during the event.
Forecaster Eric Blake said the Hurricane Center won’t release an official seasonal forecast until May 21, but the Atlantic is still in a cycle of warm waters and high activity.
Hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through November.
“These are still warm Atlantic years,” he said. “Unfortunately we are still in the midst of this era for the next 10 to 20 years.”
Last year, 16 named storms formed in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico with 8 becoming hurricanes. Three storms made landfall in the U.S. at hurricane strength.
But just one hurricane can be disastrous so it is best to be prepared even if forecasts do not call for a busy season, said Blake.
“The media kind of tends to go a little crazy over the seasonal outlook and we think they sometimes focus on the wrong things,” he said. “The seasonal forecasts are only modestly skillful, and they say nothing about the number of U.S. landfalls.”
Gerald Campbell, chief of planning for Lee County Emergency Management, agreed that too much attention is focused on seasonal forecasts.
Most years, the Atlantic will produce 10 to 14 storms but after that it is a guessing game, he said.
“What I do know for an absolute certainty is that sooner or later we will have another hurricane in Lee County,” said Campbell. “And I also know that it could happen this year.”
Campbell said residents should know their options, and staying at home during a storm is sometimes the best choice.
But for Bonita residents who live in low-lying areas, leaving the area days before a hurricane hits can be a good decision, he said. Hurricane shelters are safe, but during a storm they are hot, dark, crowded and unpleasant.
“Shelters are lifeboats and you will survive in a shelter,” he said. “But today, we are 40,000 spaces short if we had a major landfall in Lee County. If you have any of these other options, don’t go to a shelter.”
Lee building inspector Bob Stewart said residents could prepare for hurricane season by hiring an inspector to take a hurricane inventory of their home.
A licensed inspector can make sure roof and gable fasteners, windows and doors meet the strong building codes that have been developed since Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992.
And Terrance Cerullo of the Florida Department of Financial Services emphasized the importance of keeping a “hurricane toolkit” on hand.
The toolkit can be a water-resistant plastic file box or preferably fireproof container that holds important documents such as medical records, insurance policies and an inventory of valuables.
Roger Brunswick, president of Bonita Bay Homeowners Association, said the toolkit can make recovering from a hurricane much easier.
“I can’t urge people enough to have one of those kits with all their important documents,” he said. “As good as our local governments are, they’re going to react but it’s going to take them a little time to get out to you.”
Ginger Jackle of Bonita Springs has experienced several hurricane seasons in Florida and North Carolina. She attended the seminar for a refresher course.
“So many people don’t know anything about hurricanes, but there’s so much you can do to prepare for them,” she said. “This is a good reminder.”