homepage logo

Hurricane season message from Lee County: Stay aware

By Staff | Jun 6, 2019

As hurricane season is officially underway, Lee County is again spreading the message of preparedness to its residents in the event of a major weather occurrence.

Since their original predictions came out in April, top forecasters at Colorado State University have increased their Atlantic hurricane season numbers from 13 to 14 named storms, and from five to six hurricanes total. The number of major hurricanes they predict, two, has not changed.

There are a multitude of steps one can take to ensure that one’s family or self is best equipped to handle a severe storm — such as a disaster kit, emergency plan, staying up to date on the latest information, knowing your evacuation zone and nearby shelters, generator safety and more.

“Every June, hurricane season starts over again, so making sure that everybody — it’s been six months since (the last) hurricane season — dust off their family disaster plan, re-look at their evacuation zone and download some our apps where you can get good information,” said Lee County’s Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management, Lee Mayfield.

He primary message to Lee County residents this season is to “stay aware.”

Though he noted the peak of the season comes August through October, there’s no time but the present to have your plan in place.

“Hurricanes don’t really know our calendars,” Mayfield said. “Take the time now. There has been hurricane activity earlier in the season that happens every year somewhere. We’re watching now.”

Mayfield is confident his department is ready to handle whatever may come, and has learned from storms in the past when it comes to getting the plan ready for this year.

“We had a lot of practice with Irma. For better or for worse. The public, our residents, our citizens went through Irma. So I think we have a resilient group of citizens in Lee County.”

* Disaster Supply Kit

Perhaps the No.1 way to prepare in the event of a hurricane is to create a disaster supply kit.

This “all-hazards” kit should include basic survival items such as nonperishable food, water, personal items such as medicine, hygiene items, flashlights, important documents, some basic tools and more.

“Think of every member of your household and what they really need on a day-to-day basis,” said Caitie Eck, emergency management coordinator with Lee County.

Officials said residents should have a three-day supply of water for every person and pet in your household — which is one gallon per person or pet each day.

“You also want to have a three-day supply of nonperishable food. So that should be something that’s shelf stable, and my recommendation is something that doesn’t require any kind of heating or cooling before you eat it,” said Eck.

When it comes to storing things that are battery powered, such as a flashlight or radio, Eck said to make sure that you are storing the batteries separately until it is time for use.

“Don’t keep the batteries in your flashlight, or keep them in your radio, because then they go bad and when you need it, you don’t have the item that you need,” Eck said.

It is also smart to carry cash, as many ATMs may be down due to power loss during and after storms.

Another important item to pack may be lightweight clothing to keep you dry or cool for post-storm activities such as clearing debris.

Prescription medication is vital to those who may rely on it, and having what you need in-stock is essential in emergency situations.

“When an emergency declaration is issued it allows people to get medications that they might not otherwise be able to refill at the time. You can go to a pharmacy and refill something that might be low,” said Eck.

Important paperwork and documentation is also important to keep handy, such as insurance documents, title to your house, passports, Social Security cards, drivers license.

“Keep it in a Ziploc bag so that it stays nice and dry,” said Eck.

When accounting for food and water, make sure your pets are included in the total numbers.

Sanitation supplies such as unscented bleach, rubber gloves, toilet paper, rags, cleaners and disinfectants also can be collected.

Other miscellaneous items such as spare keys, maps and evacuation information, duct tape, plastic tarps, emergency contact information can all be helpful during an emergency.

Eck said to remember that your kit should be prepared for post-storm scenarios, as well as if you have to evacuate your home — whether that be to an area out of an evacuation zone or a shelter.

“You want to be self-sustainable,” Eck said. “Those with a disaster supply kit are at a tremendous advantage. A prepared community is a resilient community. A prepared household is a resilient household. The more resilient our individual households are, the more resilient our community is going to be. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link — we are only as resilient as our least prepared members of our community.”

For a comprehensive list of items you may want to add to your kit and to create your household’s emergency plan, visit www.leegov.com, select public safety and visit emergency management.

* Flood Zone/Evacuation Zones

Areas of Cape Coral include Lee County evacuation zone’s A,B,C and D.

It is vital to know where your residence lies so that if a zone is recommended to evacuate, you can do so in a timely manner.

“You need not just be on the coast to be effected by a hurricane or a major tropical event,” said Wyatt Daltry, planning team coordinator, city of Cape Coral. “As a result, you need to know your flood zone and you need to know your evacuation zone should we be in the unfortunate position of having to evacuate.”

Evacuation zones are prepared by the county, as they keep all of the municipalities in the loop in the event of a hurricane or severe weather event.

“The city and the county do coordinate when it comes to emergency management response and things like that,” said Daltry. “It’s a team effort. Have your evacuation plan.”

He said storm surge played a role during Hurricane Irma, devastating seawalls, and is always something to think about.

“We’ve been fortunate in that storm surge hasn’t washed us out or anything like that yet, but, it only takes once. Like Irma showed, storm surge didn’t over-top us, but we had a lot of seawall failures. So, the impacts are manifold.”

When an emergency declaration is issued, Daltry said it is a team effort between the city, county and media to get the word out in as timely a fashion is possible.

“We take these seriously. Irma was an excellent example. I think the word got out to people very early, which led to a fairly early evacuation,” Daltry said.

Keeping up to date on the city and county’s websites, along with social media accounts, is the best way to closely follow an impeding evacuation order, Daltry said.

Visit www.capecoral.net or www.leegov.com/publicsafety.

* Social Media/Alerts

Lee County has developed new ways to help residents stay better informed on the most up-to-date information when it comes to emergency situations.

AlertLee and LeePrepares are two free programs that give real-time updates and information pertaining to shelter openings, preparedness, and when an emergency situation arises.

“We’ve rolled out two new programs this year,” said Jonathan Diamond, emergency management coordinator with Lee County. “We’ve partnered with all of our local municipalities.”

AlertLee is the county’s mass notification system, and is capable of delivering rapid emergency notifications via phone, text, email and social media, and is run my Lee County Emergency Management.

The app will utilized whenever there are situations such as severe weather, missing persons, evacuation notices, boil water notices, fire or floods and active shooter situations.

“What the public needs to do is go to www.AlertLee.com and you’ll create a profile and tell the system what areas you want to receive notifications about,” said Diamond.

Users can put in up to five addresses and determine in which manner they would like to receive alerts, whether that be via text, email, phone, etc.

“There’s up to 14 or 15 different types of alerts that you can choose from. But we encourage everyone to at least sign up for just the system itself so that way during a very large incident we can reach you and we know where you are and how to get to you,” said Diamond.

Visit www.AlertLee.com to sign up.

The LeePrepares app is free for iphone and Android devices, and includes an interactive map that allows users to find their evacuation zone via GPS or address search. It also will let the user know what shelters are currently open and provides information about staying in a shelter. It also offers preparedness tips for impending events.

“LeePrepares is good to basically understand what is your evacuation zone. So when we’re issuing those evacuation orders, the way we communicate that is ‘We’re now issuing orders for Zone A,’ so you need to know does that actually include me or not,” said Diamond.

The app normally has a teal colored border, but during an emergency event, the background color will change to red, along with a notification that the Emergency Operations Center is activated.

“At that point, we’ll be putting real-time information through the app about shelter locations, food and water distribution sites, so it’s a really good resource for before, during and after a storm,” said Diamond.

Search for LeePrepares in your smart phone’s app store to download.

Lee County’s official Facebook page for preparedness information can be found by searching LCEMFL. You can also follow Lee County Emergency Management operations via Twitter @LeeEOC and @LCEMFL.

* Generator Safety

Thousands of homeowners across Southwest Florida purchase generators in the event of lost power during a storm or hurricane, which leaves many in the dark for days at a time in some scenarios.

Unfortunately, each year we hear of deaths caused by mishandling of generators, including carbon monoxide poisoning or electrocution.

More than a dozen people died in Florida during Irma due to generator-related causes.

“Portable generators need to run outside the home,” said Bill Floyd, emergency management coordinator with Lee County. “They need to have the proper extension cords to run inside the home from the greater. The fuel should be stored outside. When potable generators need refueling, they need to be turned off. Be cautious that the generator will be hot and there could be a spark and a fire. You should have a fire extinguisher handy.”

Other tips include:

– Place carbon monoxide detectors inside the home/business.

– Wait until generator cools to refuel.

– Do not operate more appliances and equipment than the output rating of the generator.

– Plug individual applicants into the generator using heavy duty outdoor rated extension cords.

– If a generator is connected to the house wiring, the home must have a transfer switch installed by a licensed electrician.

– Always have a fully charged, approved fire extinguisher located near the generator.

“People, on their own, hook up a generator to their home and, when recovery starts, the lineman from LCEC and FPL start working on the power lines. Well, if people have generators connected without a transfer switch to their home, that back feed of electricity could affect those linemen making the repairs, and we have had people electrocuted,” said Floyd.

The most common cause of death via generators is carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be almost impossible to detect, as it is a odorless gas.

“Run the generator outside away from open windows and doors — any kind of air source that could go inside,” Floyd said.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision and loss of consciousness. One should get into the fresh air and seek emergency medical care if experiencing symptoms.

* Prepping your house

With hurricane force winds comes debris traveling at high speeds potentially into your home. It can be useful to prune any trees surrounding your house so that loose branches or twigs don’t make their way into your windows or lanai when a storm passes through.

“We want people to realize that the more yard waste you can get away from your buildings — like your house, your shed, your pool cage, the less potential for damage you have,” said Molly Schweers, Lee County Solid Waste spokesperson. “We don’t want you to wait until a named storm in the gulf headed at us; that’s not the time to cut down that tree because that overburdens the system when we’re trying to get everything up off the street.”

Best practices include cutting off any of those loose findings on trees by your home or pool cage. Schweers said that depending on how much yard waste you have on your property, home owners should be removing a little at a time week by week to ensure a clean property if we are to get a storm.

“We want people to understand the connection between accumulated yard waste and damage to your property,” Schweers said.

Residents are encouraged to bundle debris with a cotton string (for compost) and place them in a garbage receptacle and place at your curb on your collection day.

Scheers also recommended to thin foliage so wind can blow freely through your branches and to clean your property of any potential projectiles.

Up to 50 pounds of unbundled palm fronds may be placed at the curb.

* Shelters

There are 19 shelters across Lee County where residents may find refuge if they are unable to travel far enough out of an evacuation zone to safety. Lee County Emergency Management has been focused on growing shelter capacity and locations throughout the county after lots of overcrowding during Irma.

Many schools around Lee County serve as shelters, and School District of Lee County Safety and Security Director, Rick Parfitt, has been working to help get schools ready for the season.

“We identify certain people at each of the shelters — principals, an assistant or several assistants, building supervisors, cafeteria manager. We train a core group of folks for each of the shelters,” Parfitt said.

The county trains all shelter personnel on protocol of food distribution, how to deal with issues in the shelters and more.

This year, four new shelters have been added around the county to help ease the pressure. The new locations are at Dunbar High School, Treeline Elementary, Tortuga Preserve Elementary and Manatee Elementary School. Cape Coral has only one shelter, that being Island Coast High School. The majority of shelters are more inland such as Lehigh. North Fort Myers/Fort Myers has eight among them.

“We were overcrowded in a number of shelters during Irma,” said Parfitt of the reasoning behind the addition of four schools as shelters.

Those who need access to special needs shelters must apply online and do so annually.

Those applying must have a companion/caregiver to shelter with. Residents must bring their medical equipment and medications, as well as personal hygiene items and snacks. Pets and service animals are welcome to accompany those in special needs shelters.

For a full list of Lee County shelters and to apply to a special needs facility, visit www.leegov.com/publicsafety and select “shelters.”

* Animals

Our furry friends are not to be forgotten during storm time, so it is important to prep for them just as you would yourself.

Make sure you include in your disaster supply kit food, water, leash, collar, carrier and toys for your pet.

It is also important to microchip your animal in the event that you may be separated from them for any reason.

“First thing I always suggest everybody do is microchip your pets. After Irma, we impounded over 300 pets that got separated from their owners, less than half of them were microchipped. The ones that were, got reunited very quickly,” said Karen Fordiani, commutations specialist for Lee County Animal Services.

If you have to go to a shelter, make sure you have your vet records sealed in a zipped plastic storage bag to bring with you. You will need that to claim your pet in the event of separation, said Fordiani.

There are also stickers available to put in your home’s window to identify how many pets are in the home so that emergency services know if, for any reason, they have to enter your home, even out of hurricane season.

Visit www.leegov.com/animalservices to find more animal preparedness information and a list of hotels nationwide that are pet friendly if you are forced to evacuate.

* Florida Highway Patrol

“Our main focus during a hurricane is the evacuation route,” said FHP spokesperson, Lt. Greg Bueno. “That’s going to be the interstate. We want to make sure the interstate is free-flowing.”

Bueno said FHP’s main goal is to prepare the public.

“We need everyone on the same page, which is a tall task,” Bueno said.

During impending emergency situations, FHP is going to open up the shoulder that will add an additional lane and open up the flow of traffic, Bueno said, as well as have FHP officers at checkpoints along the way. This does not mean the shoulder will be open the day of the storm; it is allowed prior to storms when evacuations are imminent.

“We still need to get assets here,” Bueno said of why they don’t “reverse lane,” or, allow both travel lanes of traffic to flow in the same direction. “Whether that’s additional help from other areas, fuel, supplies, water. These are things that we take for granted are here, but there’s a supply-and-demand issue now that everybody’s evacuating.”

FHP will be diligent about clearing roadways of debris and broken down vehicles.

Bueno advised all who plan to evacuate to make sure your vehicle is fit to travel long distances or sit in prolonged traffic.

“It’s the whole thing around preparing. Knowing where you’re going to go is extremely important. Making sure you have a dependable car and that you upkeep the maintenance on the car — to include your tires,” Bueno said.

The most important advice he wants to give to residents is to listen to your emergency operations in your city.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj