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Seminar covers before, during and after a storm

By Staff | Jun 18, 2019

TIFFANY REPECKI Officials take questions from the audience at Sanibel's annual Hurricane Seminar on June 14.

The city’s annual Hurricane Seminar and its panel of experts drew a packed house last week.

Held on June 14 at The Community House on Sanibel, the event provided residents, business owners and visitors with information on preparing for, surviving through and recovering from a storm. Free and open to all, the seminar featured a lineup of speakers, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Prior to the event, attendees had the chance to view an American Red Cross response vehicle.

“Every storm is different, and every response is different,” City Manager Judie Zimomra said.

Speaking on typical questions asked of the city, she reported that Sanibel does not turn off the water and electricity – if it happens it is due to the storm – and it does not close the Causeway bridge.

TIFFANY REPECKI City Manager Judie Zimomra explains what storm surge can do to a coastal community.

Zimomra emphasized having a plan, as well as a back-up plan if evacuations are called for.

“You pick up the bag and go,” she said, comparing it to having a hospital bag when expecting a baby.

Zimomra noted that there are many lists available to help people prepare in advance.

She reported that most storms for the islands are typically wind events, which can cause damage, but storm surge is the big concern. There is a higher likelihood of injuries with even a little storm surge.

“We have a great risk of storm surge,” Zimomra said, pointing out the low elevation.

TIFFANY REPECKI Lee County Emergency Management Operations Chief Sandra Tapfumaneyi shows a map of the recently updated Lee County evacuation zones.

Dave Roberts, the city’s weather consultant, echoed that.

“One foot of rushing water off the Gulf – that’s enough to move a car,” he said. “Three feet of storm surge is enough to take out the entire island. Three to four feet is enough to devastate the island.”

“The best plans are ones that can be changed,” Roberts added.

He reported that a water temperature of about 80 degrees is ideal for tropical storm formation. He explained that hurricane season runs from June through November, with September the peak month.

“It usually traditionally is the peak of season,” Roberts said.

TIFFANY REPECKI Community Services Director Keith Williams talks about post-recovery efforts and the debris management site after Hurricane Irma.

He urged the audience not to focus solely on if a storm if a Category 1 or Category 5 to make a judgment on the potential for damage and injury, but to look at its intensity, wind and surge. In 1910 a tropical storm – not hurricane – stayed off the coast and put Fort Myers underwater for 10 days.

Sanibel has seen 54 systems in 144 years, with about half tropical storms and half hurricanes.

“With one brush every 32 months and one direct hit every nine years,” Roberts said.

Still, he again cautioned against focusing on the numbers.

“It only takes one storm,” Roberts said.

TIFFANY REPECKI Dave Roberts, the city's weather consultant, covers this year's storm season predications.

Sandra Tapfumaneyi, the operations chief for Lee County Emergency Management, talked about the county’s Emergency Operations Center that sits at about 32 feet above sea level – a high point.

“We are at a very low elevation in the county,” she said.

Tapfumaneyi explained that storm surge is one of the key factors the county considers when determining whether to call for evacuations. Winds from a storm is another consideration.

She advised the audience to listen to officials and heed calls for an evacuation.

“The first responders are not going to be able to come to your house to help you,” Tapfumaneyi said of if there is an emergency during the storm.

She reported that the evacuation zones were updated this year; Sanibel remains in Zone A.

“Evacuation Zone A is the first one we call,” Tapfumaneyi said.

For those who decide to ride out a storm at home, she urged them to stay indoors until emergency officials issue an all clear. Going outside even briefly during the eye of the storm is dangerous.

As for having an evacuation plan, Tapfumaneyi suggested heading to the home of a family member or friend, leaving the area completely or booking a hotel. Going to a county shelter is another option.

“The shelter would be the very last option that we would recommend,” she said.

During Hurricane Irma, Lee County opened up the now Hertz Arena as a storm shelter. Tapfumaneyi reported that it was the largest one open in the state of Florida and housed at least 35,000 people.

“We knew that we had thousands more,” she said of the figure, adding that volunteers eventually stopped registering people and just started letting them in because there were so many people.

Tapfumaneyi explained that post-storm efforts include getting the county up and running as quickly as possible. Damage assessments are conducted, while sites are set up to distribute food, water and ice.

For information before, during and after a storm, the public can visit www.leeeoc.com or the EOC’s Facebook or Twitter pages. There is a 211 emergency hotline people can contact for information.

She also pointed out AlertLee, which replaced CodeRed, and a Lee Prepares phone app.

For more information on both, visit the EOC website at www.leeeoc.com.

F.I.S.H. of Sanibel-Captiva Program Director Kathy Y. Monroe talked about the agency’s Hurricane Preparedness Resource Packet that is available. She also discussed how it works with the city to track the islands’ most vulnerable citizens leading up to a storm via a list and helps with evacuation plans.

“We will reach out to them,” she said of those who sign up for the program.

Monroe covered special needs shelters, noting that advance registration is required and F.I.S.H. can assist with filling out the forms. A health assessment is sometimes required, which it can conduct.

She also offered the audience some storm tips, including pick a hotel close to Interstate 75 and have a back-up plan if you have to leave, and call the local number not the 800 number for room vacancies.

Sanibel Building Official Harold Law reviewed the city’s building codes.

He explained that his team serves two purposes in relation to storm season: to ensure structures can withstand a hurricane through the codes, and to conduct structural safety inspections post-storm.

“We do exterior evaluations,” Law said, adding that the teams do not go into residences.

Police Chief William “Bill” Dalton reported that the goal behind preparation is to save lives. He recommended getting out cash in advance of a storm, filling up vehicle gas tanks and having a plan. Officials suggest seven days worth of food per person, plus a gallon of water per person per day.

Dalton also covered how re-entry on the islands works following an evacuation.

“We have our islands divided into zones,” he said, adding that they are reopened east to west.

Residents and businesses should sign up for the city’s Hurricane Reentry Pass Program.

“They maximize security while providing access to your property,” Dalton said of the hang-tags.

Community Services Director Keith Williams discussed post-storm recovery.

“Just like every storm is different and every response is different, every recovery effort is different,” he said, noting that storms tend to result in a lot of island debris. “A wind event will generate debris.”

The city collected approximately 171,000 cubic yards from Irma.

Other storm suggestions included turning off the water and electricity to a home and emptying the refrigerator and freezer of food when evacuating, and storing re-entry passes in a vehicle’s glove box.

The city will post a video of the seminar online at a later date for those who were unable to attend.