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Dalton shares hurricane preparedness with business owners

By Staff | Jul 22, 2015

Lt. William Dalton took a room full of business professionals through a visual education of why they should plan and prepare for hurricane season during the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Sundial Beach Resort.

The 23-minute presentation began by sharing that hurricane preparedness is about saving lives.

“Before Charley hit and after we had issued the evacuation order we sent people around on foot . . . a whole team of city employees,” the City of Sanibel emergency management coordinator said. “We literally checked 4,000 houses. In one house we found an older couple that was basically shut-ins. The husband had dementia and the wife had diabetes and they had no idea a storm was coming. It was not really likely that they would have made it through the storm and then two or three weeks afterwards without power. They were older and they needed a lot of care. We were able to get them off the island and get them to the shelter and we are pretty certain we saved lives.”

A list shared by a consultant at the 2012 hurricane conference revealed the five toughest places to evacuate from. The worst place in the entire country is Southwest Florida, which is why Dalton said the city takes their planning and evacuation serious.

Many images were shared of Hurricane Charley, a storm pushing 143 mile per hour winds that made landfall on Upper Captiva almost 11 years ago.

“The morning after the storm we came on the island expecting to go to City Hall. We saw trees across the road about eight to 10 feet high,” Dalton said.

During a storm, the police department’s primary mission as a first responding agency is to protect life, limb and property through its ordinances, state and federal laws. Its secondary mission is taking on the responsibility for filing information and monitoring emergency response tasks.

“We initiate the Sanibel Emergency Plan and we secure a timely and orderly evacuation and reentry of the islands when necessary,” Dalton said.

The city will issue either a voluntary or mandatory evacuation.

A voluntary evacuation is issued depending on weather conditions that have not deteriorated to the point where emergency services are prohibited. A mandatory evacuation, on the other hand, is issued when weather conditions have deteriorated to the point where response from emergency services is refused.

One of the reason evacuations are important for the barrier island is because county ordinance states that when 40 miles per hour sustained winds are reached all bridges in Lee County are considered to be impassable.

Storm surge is also another contributing factor for evacuation because it is the number one risk of a barrier island.

The National Weather Service estimated that if Charley was a normal size category three storm, it would have had 17 foot storm surge.

“It would have pushed 17 foot wall of water over Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva,” he said.

Upon mandatory evacuation, the entire city government is moved 12 miles off Sanibel where they set up 24-hours of government continuity through information shared on their website, through email, code red notification software and on Facebook and Twitter.

Dalton stressed numerous times how important it is for residents, business owners and tourists to take evacuation orders seriously. He said if the city issues an evacuation order it is a very serious safety issue.

“We did have a person who called us when Charley was bearing down on us, probably about 12 or 1:00 in the afternoon. He said I made a bad decision and I’m stressing out and I’m having chest pains. We couldn’t respond to him at that time,” Dalton said. “If that man would have evacuated and went to a shelter, he may not have had to wait an hour or two until the storm passed. As it turned out he had to struggle all the way through the night until EMS could get out here and get to him the next day. If you pick up the phone and call 911 we will not be here to help.”

With every natural disaster, new practices are found to further maximize safety for residents and business owners. Following Hurricane Charley, the Hurricane Pass Program was implemented.

“We had people that came on the island and posed as insurance adjustors and a number of different things and they would approach established structures and they really didn’t have to break in because some of them were wide open and they would go in and commit burglary,” Dalton said.

Residents can purchase a pass by showing their driver’s license, property deed, insurance bills and utility bills. Business owners have to show a business tax receipt. Dalton said one pass is given per property for residents and businesses receive passes depending on how many employees they have.

The crowd was encouraged to create a family emergency plan and a business disaster plan to prepare for the hurricane season.

“Ninety percent of businesses that do not resume operations within five days of a disaster will fail within two years,” Dalton said.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.