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Sanibel’s still storm ready

By Staff | Jul 8, 2015

The City of Sanibel continues to be recognized as a Storm Ready community by the National Weather Service until June 17, 2018.

“For us we have done it historically because Sanibel is prone to hurricanes,” Lt. William Dalton, who is in charge of emergency management for the City of Sanibel, said of being Storm Ready.

The City of Sanibel has a longstanding emergency management plan in place for hurricanes. In addition, he said they also train their employees of what they would have to do if the plan was activated.

“Two years ago we did training for about 175 employees and years since we catch up training with new employees,” Dalton said. “We teach employees because they are going to be the response members. We educate employees and the public because overall success is much more likely.”

Dalton has conducted 11 one-hour presentations on hurricane preparedness, as well as providing information on what the city does before, during and after the storm. He said he uses Hurricane Charley as an example during the presentations.

A temporary hall at Town Plaza at Bell Tower is blocked out at the beginning of hurricane season with 100 rooms and three conference rooms. Dalton said the operations – police dispatch and administrative departments – are moved to the plaza when evacuation takes place on the island. The space is also used for community house meetings to let the community know the condition of the island and when it will become open to the public.

National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Daniel Noah said the Weather Service has recognized the City of Sanibel for their increase of preparedness and documented plans, as well as the relationship between Sanibel and the National Weather Service in Ruskin as a Storm Ready city.

“Storm Ready doesn’t mean storm proof. Storm Ready can help communities save lives,” he said.

The City of Sanibel has been recognized as a Storm Ready city since 2009. Noah said they were the eighth city in Florida to be recognized.

“Every county in Florida has been recognized, but the cities haven’t been. The advantage of having the city recognized gives points to possibly reduce flood insurance rates,” he said.

The initiative began out of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the late 1990s after the lack of communication occurred for a tornado. Noah said a tornado warning was out well in advance, but there was a communication breakdown somewhere. The sirens did not go off and the emergency responders did not know about the tornado.

Storm Ready began to strengthen the relationships between a city and the National Weather Service with the end goal of protecting life and property.

Every three years Sanibel, among the other locations recognized as Storm Ready, have to redo their application because personnel changes often times occur throughout the years.

Noah said there are many things happening that would not lead to many hurricanes, which includes El Nio. He said El Nio is strong and keeps the wind aloft 30,000 feet stronger than normal and hurricanes do no like that.

“They move from east to west. If the jet stream is stronger moving west to east and the hurricanes rip apart if there was one, hurricanes and tropical storms can’t develop,” Noah explained.

With hurricane season, he said it is best to prepare for one storm while ignoring the long range forecast.

Since Sanibel has a special threat with storm surge, Noah said it is important to listen to emergency management and city administrators when they ask residents to evacuate.

“There are probably thousands of people that made that decision . . . a ton of people and they don’t take that order lightly,” he said of evacuating. “No one likes to evacuate, but when asked to do so, do it.”

Dalton said when monitoring hurricanes they have two separate weather stations on the island that can monitor severe weather at public works and the other at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The city has Dave Roberts, a weather consultant, that also offers his expertise.

Dalton said Roberts informs the city what kind of impact the severe weather will have on Sanibel. He said he also provides information on a storm that although will miss Sanibel, may have affects on the island.

“Dave would use his experience and expertise to give us a specific forecast,” Dalton said.