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Sanibel and Captiva prepare for this year’s hurricane season 

May 18, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The city of Sanibel hosted its 2018 Hurricane Seminar in April for residents and businesses.

City officials talked about actions taken before, during and after Hurricane Irma, along with plans for the upcoming storm season. Following the presentations, a question-and-answer session was held.

Hurricane season is recognized as June 1 through Nov. 30. This year, national forecasters are anticipating a storm season with "slightly above-average activity," according to a recent report.

Drs. Philip Klotzbach and Michael M. Bell, with Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project, are predicting 14 named storms for the Atlantic basin, with seven of those reaching hurricane-level strength. Three are anticipated to become "major" hurricanes - a Category 3 storm or higher.

"There's a vast hurricane history in Florida," Dave Roberts, the city's weather consultant, said.

On average, the island gets one direct hit - landfall within 60 miles - every nine years.

Fact Box



Sanibel will once again reuse the 2016 hurricane passes for the upcoming storm season.

Residents and businesses should apply for the city's Hurricane Reentry Pass Program in case an evacuation is ordered. Those already enrolled should make sure they still have their passes.

Officials cited the city's continuing efforts to cut costs for keeping the 2016 ones active.

The passes help to aid security, speed up re-entry and provide traffic control.

"It makes it easier on the people doing the re-entry," Lance Henninger, emergency management specialist for the Sanibel Emergency Management Department, said. "It's just a lot easier than trying to do all that screening out at the toll plaza. It's faster and easier for you, it's faster and easier for us."

For residents, a limit of two passes are issued per address. The 2016 passes are purple.

For businesses, only enough passes are issued to facilitate the damage assessment process, which officials noted typically means one pass. The 2016 commercial passes are tan.

Any older hurricane passes can be discarded.

"If anyone has a pass series that's not 2016 purple or 2016 tan - if they have any other passes, they may as well thrown them away," he said, noting that every new series gets assigned new colors.

Henninger noted that the city works with Lee County in terms of ordering evacuations.

"The decision is a joint effort," he said.

The community is strongly urged to heed any evacuation orders.

"If the government, police and fire departments are running away, clearly you need to leave, as well," Henninger said.

Sanibel and Captiva have been broken down into a number of re-entry zones.

The zones are numbered from the re-entry access point - the causeway - then from Sanibel through to Captiva. Typically, a couple of zones are worked on at a time during the re-entry clearing process.

"We implement that when things are a bit worse," he said. "It's all about safety and security."

"As the zones are made ready, we allow people to return," Henninger added.

The second type is an all-zone re-entry, which was used following Hurricane Irma.

"We sustained a lot less than we could have had. That's why we did not have to implement the phased re-entry last year," he said. "We're always happen when the conditions are such that we can do that."

Upon re-entry, two lanes will be opened at the toll plaza.

One will be for pass holders, and the other for those without them.

"Even people without a pass can get in when their zone in ready," Henninger said.

For those with passes, they may need to provide a photo ID with their pass.

Those without passes will be required to provide a valid photo ID, preferably a driver's license bearing an island address, and one document with an island address, like a utility bill or vehicle registration.

He noted that the passes will work with any vehicle.

"And it covers everybody in the vehicle," Henninger said. "Not every individual in the vehicle has to have a pass."

Residents and businesses are encouraged to avoid misplacing or losing their passes.

"Don't lose them," he said. "Know where they are at all times."

It is recommended that year-round residents store their packet in their vehicle's glovebox. Those not present for storm season should bring them and any important documents to their other residence.

"Keep their pass in a file where they keep all their important paperwork on their Sanibel or Captiva property," Henninger said.

Though not the best option, the junk drawer in one's home also could work.

The passes are issued year-round Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sanibel Police Department. Applications can be submitted via the mail, fax or email. Residential and commercial passes are available with each having its own application and verification requirements specific to it.

The program was present before Hurricane Charley made landfall in 2004 with identification cards. After the storm struck, hangtags began being used, as well as the islands being divided into zones. The current program began in 2016 with residential passes made purple and commercial ones made tan.

For more information about the Hurricane Reentry Pass Program or to print an application, visit the "Emergency Management" link found under Sanibel Police Department at


Typically, the most active hurricane months are listed in order of September, August, October and November. With the peak of season recognized as Sept. 10, he noted that they can happen any time.

"Hurricanes can happen any month out of the year," Roberts said.

He described the impact El Nio and La Nia have on storm development.

In the case of El Nio, the Pacific Ocean warms up and the Atlantic cools down, making for less favorable conditions for Atlantic storms; they need a water temperature of at least 80 degrees. In the case of La Nia, the opposite occurs with the Atlantic warming up and the Pacific cooling down.

"It greatly impacts our hurricane season," Roberts said.

There is some concern for a current La Nia effect, but forecasters are keeping an eye on it.

"We're in a little bit of a La Nia right now," he said. "We are paying attention to it."

Roberts pointed out that there are many forecast models for hurricane tracking.

"A lot of them are not reliable, depending on the situation," he said. "Every storm is unique."

However, the city and its emergency team always plan for the "worst-case scenario."

"We try to over-plan," Roberts said.

Sanibel, as well as Captiva, are high-risk areas for storm surge.

"Storm surge is our biggest risk," he said, explaining to the audience that 1 foot of rushing water can move a vehicle. "It can take you to the ground."

On top of the rushing water will be crashing waves, due to the hurricane-force winds.

"It will do a ton of damage," Roberts said, adding that it does not matter if 1 foot of surge is being predicted or if forecasters are calling for 3 to 5 feet. "It makes no difference. It's still deadly."

Police Department

Police Chief William "Pete" Dalton reported that pre-Irma, police officials monitored the storm's progress, sent a liaison to the Lee County Emergency Operations Center, began initial preparations for evacuations and deployed officers to the Alpha and Brave districts, which entailed splitting up the department's manpower into two 12-hour shifts.

"That basically increases our coverage on the road," he said.

During evacuations, the department took part in storm discussions with the Sanibel City Council, continued its enforcement efforts and provided security. After the storm had passed, police set up and manned the re-entry checkpoint, assisted recovery workers surveying damage to residential and commercial properties, and provided traffic assistance.

Public Works Department

Director Keith Williams reported that every storm and every storm response is different.

"Obviously as a barrier island, we take hurricane season very seriously," he said. "Irma was a great test of our abilities, our skills and our preparations."

Before the storm hit, staff gathered together and prepared a fleet of generators and equipment.

"So that we can respond as quickly as possible after the storm," Williams said.

Staff also surveyed the island for any last-minute debris and such that could be collected.

"Public Works is some of the first people back on the island," he said of the department's post-storm response.

Staff spent the first 72 hours clearing downed trees to provide for safe access and passage.

"This was a very typical scene block after block after Irma," Williams said.

The department then focused on picking up residential and commercial debris and vegetation. He reported that more than 171,000 cubic yards of debris had been picked up by Thanksgiving.

"Throughout all of this we try to keep the public notified," Williams said.

Natural Resources Department

Director James Evans reported that prior to the storm's arrival, staff assists other departments.

"We're really filling in where we're needed," he said.

Four full-time biologists also conducted pre-storm beach and erosion surveys and checked ongoing projects, like the city's living shorelines, using drones and by going on foot. Liaisons were also sent to Fort Myers and stationed at the county's EOC.

"We had several of our staff in different places throughout the storm," Evans said.

During the storm, staff continued to track Irma. They also monitored the storm surge using the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation's RECON Network, which is sensors set up in the Caloosahatchee.

Post-Irma, staff conducted post-storm beach and erosion inspections and took part in beach clean up and debris removal efforts. They also monitored the Lake Okeechobee discharges on the area. Because many of the weaker Australian pines fell during Hurricane Charley, not as many came down in Irma.

"The vegetation was much more resilient," he said.

Building Department

Building Official Harold Law explained that there is no start and stop date for preparations.

"We work on it year-round," he said. "So they (buildings) will withstand hurricanes."

Harold explained that there is a 40-member team made up of people with backgrounds in structural engineering or construction which train annually to be prepared for before and after a storm hits.

In the past, team members would examine each property and document by hand the post-storm conditions. The information would then have to be entered into a database for dissemination.

He noted that the process is now streamlined and available online instantaneously.

"We are prepped with the most cutting-edge equipment," Law said. "You will be updated on the conditions of your property as they walk by them and evaluate them."

Information Technology Department

Director Bert Smith explained that the city systems still based on-island are all backed up.

"We've moved a lot of our systems off Sanibel," he said, adding that it keeps the data safe and things running when the island loses power.

Pre-Irma, staff set up a temporary city hall in a safe location and an off-island disaster location at Bell Tower in Fort Myers. Due to the storm's extent, a secondary site was set up in North Fort Myers.

The IT team also served as the after-hours communications team.

"Our primary focus is to try and get dispatch up as quickly as possible," Smith said, explaining that first responders and the first feet back on the island require it for post-storm recovery efforts.

During the question-and-answer session, some of the points raised by attendees included further explanation of storm surge, power restoration efforts and the evacuation decision-making process of city council. Others voiced problems about not being able to find updates during and after Irma.

The public was directed to the Sanibel Hurricane Hotline at 800-933-6093, which features updated recordings, and Code RED. Code RED is a rapid emergency notification system that people can sign up for online at and they will receive emergency notifications on their cell phone.

The community was also encouraged to sign up for the city's email list, also on the website.

Hurricane re-entry passes were available at the conclusion of the seminar.

For those unable to attend, the passes may also be obtained Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from the Sanibel Police Department on the Second Floor of City Hall, at 800 Dunlop Road.

A video of the seminar will be available online at at a later date.



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