Southwest Florida after a hurricane probably wouldn’t look like Joplin, Mo. after the devastating tornadoes there, but there are lessons we can take from the tragedy as hurricane season begins.
Midwestern tornadoes are a different weather dynamic than tropical systems and even different than the tornadoes spawned by tropical storms, explains Dan Summers, director of Collier County’s Emergency Management division.
Still, good emergency planning is universal, be it for a tornado, a hurricane or a zombie invasion like the one theorized by the Centers for Disease Control earlier this month in a demonstration designed to prove exactly that point.
Have a plan, have supplies at the ready and, as is becoming more evident as time goes on, have important documents either backed up or in a safe place, or both, Summers said.
The tornado that tore through Joplin rated an EF5, the highest number on the Fujita Scale of tornado intensity, with winds in excess of 200 mph.
The Saffir-Simpson Scale of hurricane intensity also goes up to level 5 but the two shouldn’t be confused, Summers said. To qualify as a Category 5 hurricane, a storm must have winds in excess of 156 mph. The intense, tightly circular winds of a tornado, coupled with its forward motion, yield a different pattern of destruction.
Building codes in Florida have been strengthened after the state’s experience with Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Wilma and other major storms so homes might fare better than those flattened in Joplin.
On the other hand, perhaps no practical building code can be devised that could have allowed homes to weather something like a EF5 tornado. “We can’t all live in concrete bunkers,” Summers said.
Contrasting what’s been happening in the Midwest and South with what could happen here, Summers says the first thing that strikes him is the amount of warning. Tornado victims may have only a few minutes notice that they are about to be hit. In hurricane country, storms are tracked for days as they draw near. “The good news for us is we have got warning and lead time,” he said.
The bad news for us? Hurricanes often are flood events, not just wind storms.
The past few hurricanes to hit Southwest Florida haven’t been coupled with excessive storm surge or rain. “We’ve been lulled into a little complacency. While you are dealing with a wind event, you’ve got to remember the storm surge,” he said.
Summers described as heartbreaking the images of devastated residents picking through ruins looking for family photos and insurance documents.
Lately, his office has been stressing the need to have such items either in a safe place such as a safety deposit box or backed up, perhaps on a computer memory device. “Your first line of defense is your insurance,” Summer said.
The start of hurricane season, which begins June 1, is a good time to review your insurance to make sure it meets your needs. If you wait for a storm to threaten, it will be too late, he said. “You’re not going to be able to get flood insurance a week before a hurricane.”
It is also a good time to check your emergency preparedness kit. Important items to include are non-perishable food, a gallon of drinking water per person per day, medications, a radio, a flashlight and batteries. People should be prepared to go 72 hours without outside help, emergency planners say.
A more complete list of hurricane supplies and steps to take can be found on the county’s web site under emergency management.
Summers said long-range forecasts call for a busy hurricane season. He also reminds that a season with only one hurricane can be a disaster if that hurricane hits you. “One can be a life-changing event,” he said.
Just ask the people in Joplin, Mo.
Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten