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Surviving a storm on Fort Myers Beach: be prepared

May 18, 2018
By JESSICA SALMOND (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Weather events on barrier islands are no joke.

The most important thing to do to get ready for a hurricane while living on Fort Myers Beach is planning ahead.

For a barrier island, it's even more important to have a plan and get ready even before everyone else.

"If you live here, you need to pay attention early. Don't be getting last- minute plywood," said Ron Martin, executive assistant chief of Life Safety at the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department.

Island residents can't afford to wait until the last minute for several reasons - and one of those being, there's only two ways on and off the island. Residents don't want to evacuate at the 11th hour, only to find themselves stuck in interstate traffic with the rest of the late leavers.

"We're going to have to deal with hurricanes and weather events on Fort Myers Beach," Martin said.

Fact Box

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Fort Myers Beach

2018 re-entry pass and CodeRed Notification:

The Town of Fort Myers Beach is requesting that all Fort Myers Beach residents and business owners who are not registered for hurricane re-entry passes submit a 2018 application. If you have a PURPLE (Resident) or YELLOW (Business) pass, these will be used for the 2018 Hurricane Season. Residents will be allowed to receive up to 2 re-entry passes, business owners 3 passes and property managers 1 pass per 5 properties with a maximum of 5. The Town will be accepting applications at Town Hall Monday-Friday from 8:30a.m. to 4:30p.m. Re-entry applications can be obtained online at www.fmbgov.com under Community > For Islanders > Emergency Operations or at Town Hall, 2525 Estero Boulevard, Fort Myers Beach, FL. 33931. The Town will no longer be providing re-entry passes via mail.

Applicants must complete application and supply supporting documents to receive a re-entry pass. To expedite the process photo I.D. and proof of residency is required. The owner, tenant and business should have two of the following: driver's license, vehicle registration, voter registration, utility bill, business tax bill, company letter, occupational license or lease.

The Town is encouraging all Town residents and business owners to update their CodeRed Notification Registration. The Town uses The CodeRed Notification system to notify those registered of important information during an emergency and precautionary boil water notification. It is necessary to update registration when any information has changed such as a phone number, email address or home address. Registration for CodeRed is on the Home Page of the Town's website at www.fmbgov.com, it is identified as a "button" towards the left hand side of the page.

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Department Chief Matt Love said the department did a last roll through Fort Myers Beach before Hurricane Irma, announcing it was leaving the island and shutting down its facilities, and offering to pick up anyone who wanted to change their mind about sheltering in place.

"We had a few stragglers," he said.

Martin says a hurricane kit should contain enough to help someone survive self sufficiently for 72 to 96 hours, or three to four days. Even if someone chooses to return to their home right after a hurricane, they may be without power, water and basic utilities for several days. Besides basics like food and water for your family and pets, Martin says two things that often are the next most important are cash and prescription medications to last until ATM or bank facilities and pharmacies are back up and operational.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to protect the older homes on Fort Myers Beach during a hurricane. These older homes were built before flood elevation regulations, so saving them from the storm surge can be hard, said Scott Wirth, executive assistant chief of Operations.

Flooding might be impossible to avoid, but saving the structure from wind damage is possible: Wirth said to be sure doors and windows are secured and your roof is property strapped down to the walls. It's also possible when re-roofing a home to apply the secondary water resistance layer, which is a rubber layer that helps keep the roof together.

"Making these improvements ahead of time helps with homeowners insurance," Wirth said.

Storm surge occurs when a hurricane's force is strong enough to pull water away from the shore, and causes a wave to come in once the storm has moved on. These surges can occur quickly and can be any number of feet tall.

Of course, The Fort Myers Beach Fire Department strongly urges residents to evacuate when told it's time to go.

The fire department cannot respond once winds reach 45 miles per hour, and if the access points of the bridges are compromised, it could be days before emergency services could get to the island to assist residents who chose to shelter in place.

"It's scary for us to leave our territory, but you need to be prepared for us to not be able to help you if you stay here," Martin said.

Another danger to sheltering in place on Fort Myers Beach if the home is older is the wiring, Martin said. These "pre-FEMA" homes often have old electrical wiring and can start a fire as electrical grids come back online after a hurricane.

He suggests making sure to do large-scale renovations and repairs in the off-season of hurricane so your home isn't left vulnerable during a storm, and to make sure to use licensed contractors who go through the proper permitting and reviewing regulations to ensure your home is safe.

"Those processes exist for your safety during a storm event," he said. "It helps safeguard that those activities are done to code, especially for older homes."

Martin also cautions businesses to have a hurricane plan - and to be sure their employees are ready, too.

"Have a discussion, where are you going, what's your plan," he said. "Be proactive and be prepared."

It's important to make sure to find a place to store essential company data in a safe place. If it's electronic, it's easy to store online, but if a business still uses paper files its important to make sure they can be safe.

Around 30 percent of businesses will never re-open their doors after a hurricane because of a lack of preparation and from lost data, Martin said.

But getting businesses up and running is one of the number one ways to restore a sense of normalcy to the community after a disaster - people who are trying to repair their homes feel better if they can go get a cup of coffee or pick up dinner at their favorite places.

"The quicker we're able to resume normalcy, the better it is for the community," Martin said.

 
 
 

 

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