Hurricane Season begins on June 1 and continues through November. Here are answers to some questions about what to do when a hurricane or tropical storm approaches Southwest Florida.
Questions are edited reponses to questions answered by Sandra Tapfumaneyi, Director of Public Safety - Emergency Management for Lee County.
1. Southwest Florida is experiencing tremendous growth and more people are moving here. How does that affect evacuations and preparation for a hurricane?
The last major storm was Hurricane Irma in 2017. Since that time we have had tremendous growth in residents. We have approximately 100,000 more people living in Lee County. It is more important than ever to have a solid plan in place for what to do and where to go if you don't evacuate. We are encouraging people to find family and friends outside of the evacuation area or a hotel to go to.
A lot of people are from outside the area, so getting information out and making sure that they understand that they are living in a county that has a large evacuation zone this is very important and that they rea;;u understand that, in Florida, an evacuation doesn’ t have to mean you are going out of the state.
2. When does the county make the call to open hurricane evacuation shelters?
We call for evacuations for two primary reasons. One big factor is people who may live in manufactured homes, maybe they are dependent on electricity. Itt could also be that you are living in a structure that you should not be staying in for a high wind event. The other factor is the storm surge that could come and accompany any other storm.
We monitor that and information coming from the National Hurricane Center. That drives our decision making when it comes to which zones and which parts of zones are evacuated. Our evacuation zones are based off storm surge information that we get, based on models run by the National Weather Service. We have utilized that historical data to create these evacuation zones but we get current information from the National Hurricane Center which is specific to that particular storm.
3. If we are evactuated, how far do we have to go to be safe?
Having a plan now is important. Finding a safe place to go that is outside the evacuation area — even if it is within the county — people don’t have to go that far away.
During a storm, the information will be available from the Lee Prepares app. We currently have 20 shelters and we are continuing to work with the school district; we anticipate adding additional shelters as new (school) construction is put into place. It is important to know that while we have 20 on the list, we don’t open all 20 for every storm. Go to our website, media sites or our social media sites. We are working on upgrades to five of the shelters and we would be adding generators to those facilities in the next year and a half.
4. Can long-time residents be safe based on their experience in past hurricanes?
What's helpful for people who may think they’ve lived in the county for generations, and haven't’ seen (severe) storm surge before, is to really look at these other storms, to say this is the potential for our county, even thought it hasn’t happened here before. It's really important to know it can happen. Every storm is different. We don’t want the folks to become too complacent -- hurricanes are very different, they change a lot as they grow and as they come toward land so you have to be very cognizant of the hazards that those storms can bring. We encourage peoel to really pay close attention to the information from the national hurricane center.
5. What are the important things people should keep in mind throughout hurricane season
We are definitely living in an age where people have information at their fingertips. They are seeking out information. We see a change in the way that people want to be prepared. They want to be able to take care of their families. Our hope is that if they stay at home and are prepared to do so, they’ve got their supplies so they don't have to venture out to the store
Writing a family plan is very important. We have a template that they can use. We have thought through all of those questions and it’s very comprehensive. It includes things like preparing for children, if you have an elderly family member, if yhou have pets, if you have a boat. We have thought through those elements of preparedness so having a family plan is very important as well, that way.
WWW.LeeEOC.com has information about preparing for hurricanes, creating a family hurricane plan, what do do before and after the storm hits and other guides for preparing for a hurricane, what to do it it hits and what do to after it moves away.
LeePrepares App Get a special app that provides information on preparing before the storm, and emergency information you need for a hurricane and its aftermath.
www.leegov.com/hurricaneseminar includes help in devising a hurricane plan, using hurricane checklists, and other tips for preparing for a hurricane
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Expert Advice: Prepare in advance for hurricane season