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Hurricane seminar informed attendees of safety measures

By Staff | Apr 20, 2016

Lee County Emergency Operation Center’s Chief of Emergency Management Jim Bjostad discussed why it is important to have a hurricane plan in place before a storm makes landfall. MEGHAN MCCOY

A common theme speakers got across during the Captiva Hurricane Preparation Seminar last week at the Captiva Community Center was to stay informed and seek safety when evacuations are in place.

The Captiva Hurricane Committee began meeting 11 and a half years ago to facilitate information regarding preparation during and after a storm for the community.

Lee County Emergency Operation Center’s Chief of Emergency Management Jim Bjostad said since Captiva is in evacuation Zone A, he strongly encourages individuals to head off the island when an evacuation has been issued. He said he gives individuals a three to five day notice of hurricanes, which helps them make a decision of what they want to do.

“I want to get you inland to shelter, to places where you are going to be safe,” Bjostad said. “One thing I want you to remember today. I want you to respect wind, but I want you to fear the surge. If the wind hurts you, the surge will kill you. You drown if the surge is higher than you are. If there is going to be a storm surge and it’s a big slow moving storm there is a lot of rain and the water piles up because it has no where to drain to.”

He asked the crowd when you have a combination of the surge coming in, the rain coming down and things flying around in the air, who would want to stay on the island during a hurricane?

NBC Weather Meteorologist Kristen Kirchhaine shared information about the upcoming 2016 hurricane season. MEGHAN MCCOY

“I want you to plan ahead. I want you to think. I want you to be informed,” Bjostad said. “I will never tell you what to do. I will give you the best information I can. Ultimately it is your decision to decide what to do, but I would like you to have a plan.”

Individuals can visit www.LeeEOC.com for assistance in developing a plan.

Since it may take four or five days to get to individuals that remained on Captiva after a hurricane, it is important to have three to five days of drinking water, three days of nonperishable food, flashlight, batteries, clothes, cell phone and charger.

“Everyone who lives on the island, the first day of June, the first day of hurricane season, fill up your car with gas and never let it go below a half of a tank,” Bjostad said. “When you evacuate you don’t have to wait in line for the other people ahead of you at the gas pump. If you do stay home you are now allowed a few days in your automobile. You have air conditioning, because you are not going to have it in your house, you have something to charge your cell phone with and you can listen to a radio station and start getting information.”

He said the easiest thing to do if the television still works is watch a favorite TV station because they are going to be providing information. Social media, and listening to the radio is also important because it helps individuals stay informed about the storm.

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Division Vice Commander Tom Bamford explained the right and wrong way to secure a boat when a storm is approaching. MEGHAN MCCOY

“Do you remember the big surprise we got when Charley hung a right? Charley was still within the cone of uncertainty,” Bjostad said. “We now know that we should have been a lot more forceful about telling people this storm may change. But, in 2004 we hadn’t had a lot of storms.”

He informed attendees to stay safe by going to a friend, or relative’s house, or go to one of his many Lee County schools that are set up as shelters. Bjostad said he has a special needs shelter, which individuals have to preregister for, for someone that has to have electricity.

“Folks these places are not fun places to be,” he said. “People pack in because they are waiting until the last minute. I want you to be safe. I will have deputies, law enforcement. I will have food and I will have water. I will have air conditioning until the power goes out and then we might have a fan blowing. It is not a fun place to be. It’s better to be somewhere else.”

Although it is better to seek shelter somewhere else, if that is the only choice one may have, he would rather them seek safety at the shelter.

Bjostad also touched upon making sure a pet is microchipped because one in three pets are lost during a hurricane.

Captiva Island Fire District Chief Rich Dickerson shared how Hurricane Charley impacted Captiva in 2004. MEGHAN MCCOY

Generators were also discussed during his presentation. He said batteries and carbon monoxide detectors are incredibly important to have in every place a person is sleeping.

“Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless,” Bjostad said. “You go to sleep and it seeps into the open windows and you die. If you are going to have a generator anywhere in your house, you gotta have a carbon monoxide detector and the correct batteries on it, so you will be safe.”

NBC Weather Meteorologist Kristen Kirchhaine also spoke during the seminar to provide information about the 2016 hurricane season predictions.

Seven tropical storms, four hurricanes and two major hurricanes made up the 2015 hurricane season, which really did not have any major impact to the United States. She said 2015 was a below average season.

“El Nino has been a huge player with the winter weather. But, as we move into the summer, we are going to see a big transition. We are in transition to what is called a neutral phase and then it looks like we are going to transfer into La Nina,” Kirchhaine said. “Over the course of our hurricane season this year we are going to see some changes and that could make things interesting.”

She said when they go into La Nina, August through October, it tends to be more favorable for hurricane development.

Although the official report had not been released yet, WeatherBell, a private weather company, put their tropical outlook out. Their prediction, she said is for a total of 11 to 14 storms, six to eight of those being hurricanes and two to five of them being major hurricanes, which is above average of what was seen last year.

“I think it’s a big heads up that we kind of have to say okay the outlooks are favoring activity in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico,” Kirchhaine said.

Historically speaking, she said Miami, Key West, Palm Beach, Fort Myers and Pensacola have a higher risk of seeing a hurricane.

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Division 9 Vice Commander Tom Bamford spoke about boat safety before a hurricane.

“Our number one goal is preservation of life,” he said. “In order to do that you have to think about safety. The thing around here is there is no safe haven for a boat. You want to plan ahead and get out of here. Make sure you know what you are doing. It’s all about preparation.”

Individuals that own a boat should have record keeping of their vessel. Bambord said the best way to do this is by taking a photograph with a cell phone of the boat’s number and engine ID number and email it to yourself.

It is also important to have someone take care of the boat when the owners are not in the area. It is also important to understand the liability of having a boat stored at a marina. He said a lot of the marinas will close down when a storm is coming.

Bambord also touched upon securing a boat and having a weather radio, as well as backup radios. It is also smart to keep fuel tanks full on a boat, as well as have smaller fuel containers full of gas.

“Don’t store them in the garage,” he advised.

Batteries were also discussed because it is important that if the boat floods water does not cover the battery and create a hazard. He said it is smart to have extra batteries. It is also important to strip a boat before a storm comes.

“Get the plastic windows, the canvas, get them off. Paddle boards, kayaks that you might have on a boat get them off,” Bambord said, adding that names should be written on the kayaks and paddle boards. “Seal all of the windows because if water gets in the boat it will cause problems, either a weight factor, flooding, or a battery problem.”

It is also important to kill the power to the dock, as well as leaving the drains open on the boat.

Lee County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit Deputy Tim Babor discussed issues of derelict vessels, or abandoned vessels, left without anyone taking care of them for five to 30 days in Lee County during the seminar. He said if there is an owner of the vessel they will track them down and try to work with them.

“After Charley there were a lot of vessels washed all over the place all over Lee County,” Babor said. “After storms, a lot of the boats washed up in the mangroves.”

If there is a storm, boats are going to turn up, and we will contact the owner, he said, adding they have plenty of time to work out solutions.

The last portion of the seminar included a local view from Captiva Fire Chief Rich Dickerson and Sgt. Mike Sawicki with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department.

Dickerson said individuals should leave, and not stay on the island when a hurricane evacuation is in place. He said during Hurricane Charley, all public safety evacuated at last minute.

“When there is an evacuation, take it seriously,” Sawicki said. “It’s not a decision they anchor lightly down at the EOC to tell people they need to leave the area. They are acting in your best interest. We have no interest in keeping you off of this island any longer than we have to. We are going to be hard at work with one goal, which is to re-stabilize the island to let people come back.”

He said if residents start coming back before they get the all clear they start facing a lot of dangers and hazards – things they may not have considered.

“Not only are you going to put yourself in danger, but you are going to be tampering our efforts to return the island to normalcy,” Sawicki said. “I understand the impulse. I know everyone is going to really want to see what has happened to their house. But, please resist the impulse.”

After a hurricane, he said they are going to be conducing life and safety and evaluating properties.

“It’s a really dangerous situation. It is a dangerous situation for people who are trained in all of these hazards. If you are not trained in those sorts of things it is even more dangerous,” Sawicki said.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.