Annual seminar gives residents hurricane insight
Every year, the Captiva Hurricane Response and Preparedness Committee holds an annual seminar to educate island residents on hurricane safety. Last Wednesday, Jim Bjostad, chief of emergency management with Lee County Department of Public Safety and Kristen Kirchhaine of NBC’s Weather Team presented information to residents at the Captiva Civic Center that included what to do before and after a storm and this year’s hurricane predictions.
Kirchhaine, who opened the seminar, said that a lot of the activity last season managed to stay in the open water.
“What we dealt with last year was a weak La Nina,” Kirchhaine said. “When we see a La Nina, we tend to see a little more activity and that’s exactly what happened.”
Kirchhaine said she expects lower activity than last year.
“Models predict that we will go into an El Nino,” she said. “It’s going to be a weak, maybe a moderate El Nino. If we can get this El Nino to come up, it will probably limit some of the tropical activity we’ll see.”
She said the peak of season will be Sept. 10. If we do get hit by hurricane this year, she said the cities that will feel it the most are West Palm Beach and Miami.
WeatherBell predicts 10-12 total storms for this year, four to six hurricanes and one to two major hurricanes.
Kirchhaine also announced during her presentation that the National Hurricane Center came out with a new system that can alert residents of storm surges before tropical cyclones hit.
“Prior to now, we had to wait for that system before we could get information or before we could get an idea,” Kirchhaine said. “We like to see those watches and those warnings coming out so we can get a good idea of who is going to be impacted.”
Her best advice to residents is to stay informed throughout hurricane season which begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
Bjostad, the second speaker, opened his presentation with a phrase he wanted everyone in the audience to remember: “Respect the wind, fear the surge.”
“Half of the people who died in a hurricane, drowned from a surge,” Bjostad said. “Another quarter of the people drowned from the flooding.”
Bjostad urged island residents to evacuate during a major storm and to have a plan. He also encouraged residents to purchase a weather radio to alert them of tornado warnings.
“The main thing is to be educated. Listen to the weather professionals and listen to your fire and sheriff department and your commissioners and your leadership when they tell you it’s time to go,” he said.
Bjostad said he gives three to five days notice before a hurricane so that individuals can be prepared and have a plan of action. To develop a plan, individuals can go to leeeoc.com.
He said that individuals have a couple options to choose from when it comes to staying safe during a hurricane. Residents can go to a hotel, a friend’s house, a general population shelter or a special needs shelter.
Bjostad said that a shelter isn’t necessarily the ideal place to be but he encourages individuals to come if they have no other place to go.
“As the storm hits, we will have shelter capacity, and we will try to spread people out as long as we can, Bjostad said. “The intent is, nobody stay home because they have no other choice.”
East Lee High School and South Fort Myers High School offer shelter for pets. He informed attendees to microchip their pet because one in three pets are lost during major disasters.
Bjostad also said that generators and carbon dioxide detectors are a must during hurricane season. A great piece of advice he gave attendees is to never let their tank get below half full after Memorial Day incase of a storm.
“When evacuation starts, you’re not getting in line for gas,” he said.
During the last 15 minutes of seminar, Captiva Fire District Chief Rich Dickerson reiterated Bjostad’s words: “Evacuate.” Dickerson reminded attendees that when a major storm is approaching, the fire and police department leave.
“If we’re not here, you shouldn’t be here,” Dickerson said.
Sgt. Mike Sawicki with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department reminded attendees to update their Homeowner’s Authorization Letter. The letter authorizes certain people to be on property after the evacuation is lifted.
“It streamlines the process of weeding out someone on the property. We ask them who they are, who gave them permission to be there and we can check that information against the information that you’ve given us,” Sawicki said.
City of Sanibel Emergency Management Specialist Lance Henninger closed the seminar by saying that having a hurricane re-entry pass is extremely important for going back to the island after a hurricane. The 2016 passes are still good to go for this year. To obtain a residential or business hurricane re-entry pass, go to mysanibel.com.