In preparation for the 2013 hurricane season, Lee County Emergency Management went through the usual checklist, with one new task - acclimate staffers to the new Emergency Operations Center.
"There is not that much different that we are doing this year," Gerald Campbell, interim director for Lee County Emergency Management, said. "The biggest change for us is the new building."
Staff moved into the center, located on Ortiz Avenue in Fort Myers, in March.
Hurricane season is recognized as June 1 through November 30.
County officials have been preparing by making sure all of the equipment works and that employees are trained and ready to go. It also participated in a statewide hurricane exercise at the end of May.
"For us, it's essentially office work," he said of the drill. "We do some conference calls."
Working out of the new center and practicing on the new equipment has been the major focus.
"We have more room to work. It's a bigger facility," Campbell said, adding that there is room now for breakout sessions. "We only had about 62 work stations. This building has over 100 work stations."
The county can bring more community partners into the center because of the extra space.
"That's actually the biggest thing," he said. "You can have the newest technology, the latest and greatest, but the real thing that makes an emergency operations center work is the people."
During a natural disaster or other incident, senior decision-makers countywide could respond, as well as state partners like the Department of Health and volunteer groups like the American Red Cross.
"All of the people that we need to both respond to the emergency and bring the community back to normal," Campbell said.
Since moving into the center, Lee County Emergency Management has hosted an exercise with the Department of Health and another with a criminal justice class from Florida Gulf Coast University. In the FGCU exercise, students were given a mock scenario and they had to fulfill the functional roles.
Every exercise is a chance to give staff additional hands-on training with the equipment.
"We've worked with other partners in the community," he said. "It puts people in the room."
As the county gets ready for season, residents are urged to focus on preparation, as well.
"The biggest thing that everyone can do is create their personal preparedness plan," Campbell said, adding that the recommendation applies to all, even government employees and first responders.
"That's important for everybody, not just the general public," he said.
Campbell suggested taking an all hazards approach to planning.
"Understand what's out there that can hurt you, understand what you can do to lessen or adapt to those risks," he said. "Then it's a fairly simple, 'What do I need to take with me? What do I need to have?'"
A basic personal kit should include food and water, along with supplies for babies or pets.
"All of those things that make your life possible, convenient and successful," Campbell said.
Residents should also have an evacuation plan in place before a storm hits.
"I think that we would give the community the same advice that we give ourselves internally," he said. "Accept the reality of hurricanes in Southwest Florida. They are a fact of life here."
Be prepared and do what needs to be done to be safe from a storm.
"Never mistake good luck for a good plan. It only takes one storm to create a disaster for communities and families," Campbell said. "The bottom line is we want people to recover, we want them to get their lives back, as quickly as possible after the storm."
The Lee County Emergency Operations Center is at 2675 Ortiz Ave., Fort Myers.
For more information, call (239) 477-3636 or visit online at: www.leeeoc.com/.