With hurricane season just around the corner, Lee County officials are preparing for the months ahead, and residents should do the same. Hurricane season runs June 1 through Dec. 1.
"We've reviewed our plans and procedures," Gerald Campbell, chief of planning for Lee County Emergency Management, said.
At the end of May, the department will also take part in a statewide hurricane exercise involving a weeklong series of drills and meetings.
"We actually get a chance to simulate some of the things we would do in a real emergency," he said.
In addition, the department continues to focus on social media.
"We always try to get our local preparedness message out to people," Campbell said. "We recognize the importance of social media."
Lee County Emergency Management maintains a website: www.LeeEOC.com, as well a Twitter account. Links to useful resources are on the website, and people can sign up via it or Twitter to get emergency alerts on their phone.
Last year, the department introduced a Lee County evacuation application for Apple users. Now, an Android version of the application is available.
"If you've got a smartphone or a tablet, you can download it," he said of the newest version. "It uses the onboard GPS in the device to locate your storm surge evacuation zone."
Users can also pinpoint the evacuation zones of other locations.
There are links to Lee County's hurricane shelter database and more, and users can set the application to alert when a zone is evacuated or "active."
"We know that the Apple version has been downloaded," Campbell said.
During the 2011 hurricane season, more than 1,000 versions of the Apple application were downloaded. More current numbers were not available.
"The reason that we do that is because information is critical to people," he said, adding that the information must also be in an understandable format.
"Our goal is to give people the right information at the right time in a means that they are comfortable with and can access easily," Campbell said.
A recent study found that Southwest Florida is the hardest area in the country to evacuate. He noted that does not mean the region has the worst evacuations, people simply need to understand the risks and difficulties.
"We want people to understand that hurricanes are a fact of life in Southwest Florida," Campbell said. "But there are things people can do."
Be prepared to respond, protect oneself and remember recovery.
"Have a plan that is customized to your specific needs," he said.
For example, understand the risks, like a home's elevation level in terms of storm surge or a residence's venerability to wind, like a manufactured home.
"Make a plan that addresses those risks," Campbell said.
People should also consider their own special needs, such as specific medical care, or if they have pets and which shelters take pets in an evacuation. Make taking important documents and paperwork part of the plan.
"In many cases, the safest course of action is to evacuate," he said.
Know where you are going, how to get there and what you are taking along. For those who decide to ride out a hurricane, Campbell reminded that normal services, like police and fire, will be compromised during and after a storm.
"One must be prepared to deal with all of those eventualities," he said. "The hurricane is not over when the weather clears."
Officials recommend at least one gallon of water per day per person, along with at least three days of food per person - five to seven days is ideal. Medications that must be temperature controlled will require storage.
"Try to be prepared for the unexpected," Campbell said.
People will also want to familiarize themselves with their homeowner's insurance, including what is and what is not covered by their policy.
"Flood insurance is a good added degree of protection because most homeowner's insurance does not cover it," he said.
When it comes to the recovery after a hurricane, beware of scam artists offering to do a job for a few hundred dollars or unlicensed contractors. If doing cleanup around a home themselves, people should not do anything that they would not normally do, like saw down trees or get on a roof.
"Make sure you understand your limitations," Campbell said. "It's hot, it's muggy, it's dangerous out there."
The main message of officials: Have some plan in place.
"You don't have to have a perfect plan, you just have to have a plan that addresses some of the important things for you," he said.