As we head into hurricane season in Southwest Florida, emergency management officials are reminding residents to check their family’s emergency plans and restock supply kits.
National hurricane forecasters are predicting an above-average chance for major hurricanes this year. The Atlantic basin hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting an active to extremely active 2013 hurricane season, with three to six major hurricanes in the Atlantic this year. Major hurricanes are considered Category 3, 4 or 5, with winds of 111 mph or greater.
The NOAA’s 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook indicates a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), with seven to 11 of those storms becoming hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater).
This is well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Local emergency managers don’t attribute too much significance to hurricane forecasts. Rather, they want to remind residents to make sure they are prepared before any storms are looming.
“The risk of hurricanes here is the same this year as any year,” said Gerald Campbell, chief of planning for the Lee County Emergency Management Service. “It’s important people have a plan to evacuate.”
Lee County has launched a “Know Your Zone” campaign, with a dedicated page on its website at www.leeeoc.com. Lee County residents can type in their address to learn their evacuation zone, which indicates their property’s risk of storm surge, Campbell said.
He also advises Lee County residents to download the Lee Evac app for their Apple or Android devices. The app will determine the evacuation zone and send an alert if an evacuation order is issued.
Collier County Emergency Management Director Dan Summers advises residents to invest in a weather radio which will receive NOAA alerts regardless of power outages or other communications interruptions. Collier residents also may sign up for weather alerts by text on the colliergov.net website or from the National Weather Service at www.weather.gov. Public radio station 90.1 FM also will broadcast emergency weather information, Summers said.
With the last major evacuations happening in 2004 and 2005 with Charlie and Wilma, residents may have become slack in their hurricane preparedness, especially if they are new to the area, emergency managers said.
“The message is always, ‘Dust off your plan and make sure you take seriously the need for a minimum of supplies for 72 hours in your disaster kit,” Summers said. “This also is a really good time to do an insurance check. Make sure you understand your level of coverage and your deductible.”
Homeowners need to ensure they know how to install hurricane shutters and other devices to protect their property.
Mark Schwartz, owner of Storm Force, is speaking to business owners at a Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce networking lunch June 25 about the many products his company offers for hurricane protection.
“Sooner or later, we are going to get hit by a hurricane,” he said. “That’s just a fact. We can go 10 or 15 years, but we will get hit.”
We’re heading into the eighth season since a major hurricane has struck Southwest Florida. A 50-year history shows the area gets hit by a hurricane an average of every 6.5 years, so we are due, Schwartz said.
While no one knows when or where storms may strike, hurricanes are unique in that property owners get advance warning as they approach.
“A hurricane is really the only natural disaster you can protect against and do something about,” Schwartz said. However, he adds, “By the time the storm has a name, it’s too late to call me.”
Early planning is the key message emergency managers want to get out.
Bonita Springs Fire Department urges its residents to know their evacuation routes and don’t count on all shelters to be open. The Bonita YMCA has been determined to be in a flood zone, so there is a high probability it won’t open during a hurricane due to new Red Cross staffing policies, said Bonita Springs administrative coordinator Nicole Hornberger.
“The shelters we are accustomed to having are not going to be there this year,” she said. “Bonita Springs residents really need to be prepared to evacuate early, and that includes getting their supplies list ready now.”
Early evacuations are critical for residents of Marco Island, as there is a potential for 17,000 to 40,000 people needing to evacuate using just two bridges to the mainland. Emergency managers estimate it could take 15 hours or more for everyone to evacuate the island.
Marco Island Fire Chief Michael Murphy advises residents to sign up for “Code Red” phone notifications on the city’s website at www.cityofmarcoisland.com. Because of modern technology and better forecasting, most island residents know several days in advance as a storm or possible hurricane approaches. Being on an island, the land is especially vulnerable to tidal surge, Murphy warned.
“On the island, we’ve had excellent cooperation during storms,” he said. “People do seem to take it seriously. The main issue is they get out in a timely fashion. Don’t wait until the last minute to find a hotel or get a flight out. It’s easier to get out three or four days ahead of time.”
The two Marco Island bridges will never close unless there is a serious structural problem, Murphy added. The public water utility also will remain operational during and after a hurricane unless there is tremendous flooding.
His final advice is good for anytime: “Photograph your property, and take records with you, send them in an email to somebody else or put them in ‘the cloud,’ so they’re stored somewhere else.”
Residents who wish to help out during or after a hurricane may join the CERT (Citizens Emergency Response Team) in their community. CERT members assess damage and help local emergency agencies determine where services are needed most. Contact your local fire department for more information.
Also, visit www.ready.gov for tips on creating a family emergency plan and building a food and supply kit to last at least 72 hours. The recommendation for water is to stock one gallon per person per day.
2013 Hurricane Guide
Basic emergency supply kit:
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Manual can opener for food
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
Tips for preparing your property:
- Trim the trees and straighten up the yard to remove potential debris.
- Have hurricane shutters ready. If you want to buy more attractive or easier to install hurricane protection, do it now, before a storm hits.
- Replenish your first-aid kit and hurricane supply box. Stock high-protein canned items and nonperishable items your family likes to eat.
- Keep important papers related to your home, insurance and financial records in a waterproof box and a copy stored online, along with photographs of valuable items. Also compile a phone list for your doctors, insurance companies, banks, etc., and store in the waterproof box.
Get prepared - Find out how on these websites:
Important storm emergency numbers to know in Collier County:
- Emergency: Dial 911
- Emergency Hotline: 311 or 239-252-8444
- Sheriff: 239-252-9300
- Big Corkscrew: 239-455-1204
- City of Naples: 239-213-4900
- East Naples: 239-774-7111
- Golden Gate: 239-348-7540
- Immokalee: 239-657-2111
- Isles of Capri: 239-394-8770
- Marco Island: 239-389-5040
- North Naples: 239-597-3222
- Ochopee: 239-695-4114
- Collier County schools: 888-994-6397
- City of Everglades, Mayor’s Office: 239-695-3781
- City of Naples, Mayor’s Office: 239-213-1030
- Collier County Contractor Licensing: 239-252-2431
- Collier County Security: 239-252-8380
- Collier County Utilities (waste pick-up): 239-252-2380
- Water main breaks: 239-252-6245
- Debris removal: 239-252-2380
- Department of Insurance & Consumer Affairs: 800-342-2762
- Florida Highway Patrol (Naples): 239-354-2377
- Florida Division of Emergency Management, Florida Emergency Information Line: 800-342-3557
- Hotel Hotline: 800-785-8252
- Trash Collection: 239-252-2380
- Wastewater and water Service: 239-252-2380
Stories from our 2013 Hurricane Guide
- What to do with your pool before and after the storm
- Tips for making sure you are properly covered by insurance
- Experts say store your medical records electronically
- Experts offer advice for boaters to prepare for storm season
- Make preparations for pets in your hurricane plan
- Plan in advance and register for special needs shelters
- Technology aids Collier, Lee residents in storm tracking
- Shelters in Lee County
- Important storm emergency numbers to know
- Important numbers to know in city of Naples
- Emergency numbers for Marco Island
- Important storm numbers for Lee County
- Important south Lee numbers to know
- Important utility, agency numbers to know in region
- Keeping trees healthy, trimmed
- Important websites at your fingertips
- Flood insurance program changes affect Collier, Lee
- Evacuating or staying? Either way, have a plan