With the 2013 hurricane season set to kick off, the Cape Coral Fire Department has been training staffers and updating equipment to make sure the city is well prepared for the coming months.
Hurricane season is recognized as June 1 through Nov. 30.
Fire Chief Timothy Hayes, who also serves as the city's emergency management director, explained that the department participated in a statewide hurricane exercise in May, followed by an exercise at the new Lee County Emergency Operations Center. Training is scheduled for Cape department officials.
Going through the drills before a storm hits helps to get all the players on the same page.
"We would need all hands on deck," he said. "It kind of keeps that synergism."
Leading up to June, training has been a priority. It will continue to be one throughout the year.
"We've been trying to make sure all of our people have the right training - making sure all of our command staff at the fire department has everything they need," Hayes said.
"We're going to be pretty busy," he added, of the year-round training.
Improvements at the Cape Coral Emergency Operations Center has also been on the checklist, including software and computer equipment upgrades. Lee County is sharing some new software.
"That's going to be available to us," Hayes said.
The city has also been talking to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"So we can make informed decisions," he said, referring to when storms appear.
While it would not be in place for the coming hurricane season, emergency officials are looking into upgrading the Cape's emergency notification service, called CodeRED. The current system can deliver pre-recorded messages to people who sign up using a phone number and address The service is free.
The new software being considered was utilized in Boston during the marathon bombings.
"It seems like it gives us a little more capability," Hayes said.
One difference is the new software involves cloud computing, meaning information is stored and accessed over the Internet, rather than on a computer's hard drive or server. This means that if a storm damaged the EOC and its computer equipment, the service would continue to work, he explained.
"That way it's not affected by our situation here," he said.
As Cape emergency crews continue to prepare, residents are urged to do the same.
"We want everybody to have a plan, an emergency plan," Hayes said.
"They should put together a disaster kit," he added. "It's all about self sustainability."
Kits should include at least a three-day supply of food per person, along with water, flashlights and batteries. An emergency whistle is always a useful item to alert authorities to one's whereabouts.
"The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Web site is a really good source to get some samples of supply lists," Hayes said.
People should have their vehicles fueled up in case mandatory evacuations are called.
"We are one of the hardest places in the United States to do an evacuation," he said, attributing the problem to the area's large population combined with a limited number of evacuation routes.
Residents are advised to know their specific evacuation zone and to monitor the media.
"We have some good information that comes out through the media," Hayes said.
Families should have a designated rally point in case they get separated.
"The biggest thing is the family having an emergency plan and communicating," he said.
"Be aware of what's going on around you. Be as prepared as you can be," Hayes added. "Take it seriously and don't wait until the last minute. Make it fun for the family, make it a part of your life."
On June 6, the Cape fire department will host its 2nd Annual Hurricane Seminar from 6:30-8 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd. The event is free and open to the public.
Guest speakers for the seminar include Jim Farrell, from WINK News; Cape Fire Chief Timothy Hayes; Gerald Campbell, interim director for Lee County Emergency Management; Cpt. Lisa Barnes, of the Cape Coral Police Department; and the city of Cape Coral Building Official Paul Dickson.
"We invite everybody to come out," Hayes said.
The Cape Coral Emergency Operations is at 1115 S.E. Ninth Ave.
For information, call (239) 574-0501 or visit online at: www.capecoral.net.