Although hurricane prediction forecasters for the 2012 season, beginning June 1, are calling for a relatively light year in storm events, Beach residents and visitors should still be batting down the hatches in case things turn for the worst.
Everyone should be prepared and ready in case of a tropical event. Last year, new forecast criteria, simplifying evacuation plans and re-organizing storm classification in judging storm surge threats were three main topics that provided knowledge to those who attended hurricane seminars around Lee County. The same message was conveyed to those at Town Hall on Estero Island.
"We will no longer refer to a storm surge threat as 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5," said John Wilson, director of the Lee County Department of Emergency Management. "We have developed maps to identify the areas that are at risk to a storm surge threat A and storm surge threat B, etc. That is how we will be presenting that information to you should we have a threat this summer.
Due to Estero Island being a barrier island, Beach residents will still be asked or ordered to leave during a threat in the Gulf, while other Lee County inlanders may wait until there is a better idea of what the forecast will be.
This re-thinking is due to the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service's decoupling the storm surge threats from the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. It also is a direct circumstance of less law enforcement and management resources since the turn in economy.
"With the way the risk is now displayed with how many people are at risk and how much time it will take to evacuate people at potential risk, we can no longer do that," said Wilson. "Now, we can have better use of our scarce resources for sheltering and make better of our law enforcement officers in terms of trying to cover every evacuation route. We can focus on those areas that are 'A' level first."
Fort Myers Beach is classified as an "A" level, meaning first to evacuate.
"Now when you here that there is a Category 3 hurricane, it's actually a measure of the wind speed of the storm and has nothing to do with what the potential storm surge threat will be," said Wilson. "There are new forecast products to be used to determine a storm surge threat. That, in concert with the update that was done with our hurricane risk which took into account the size of the storm and some more accurate readings of our elevations on land and on the sea, tells our risk in Southwest Florida to storm surge flooding has increased significantly."
Remember the three "p"s in anticipation of a tropical event: plan, prepare and pass it on.
"The things that you do to get yourself ready for what's going to happen is as important as anything you are going to do during an emergency," said FMB Town Manager Terry Stewart "Really, more important, is to have the right supplies, the right materials and the right preparation to protect yourself your family and neighbors."
"Our resources are recalled when there are 40 mile-per-hour sustained winds, and we go from limited to virtually no services for the public. When asked to evacuate, I would do that," added Lee County Sheriff's Office Captain Matt Powell.
Emergency personnel relay three stages for in the event of a hurricane: 1) Pre-storm phase (have fresh gas in generator, collect 3-5 days of food, etc.); 2) Storm phase (shutters up, call EOC, evacuate if needed); and 3) Response phase ("windshield assessment" in damages, reviewing calls, checking the area).
Emergency kit supplies needed include food, water, batteries, flashlights, pocketknife, rope, tape and hand tools.
"The last thing you want to do is run out to a store to try to acquire these things. They may not have the supplies that you need. You don't want to take that chance," Stewart said.
Important papers should be placed in an emergency file including phone numbers for insurance agents for car, property, etc. and insurance forms for house, automobile and health.
"Our desire is not to scare you, but to inform you," Stewart concluded.