2020 Hurricane Season

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Now Is The Time to Prepare

While the 2020 Hurricane Season does not begin until Monday, June 1, Tropical Storm Arthur already formed off Florida’s east coast on May 17, marking the sixth straight year that a named disturbance swirled before the official start. As a result, Lee County wants its residents to initiate their hurricane preparations now, well in advance of the year’s traditional peak in August and September, especially since everyone needs to balance these essentials with coronavirus concerns.

“Now is the time to prepare,” said Lee Mayfield, Lee County’s Director of Public Safety & Emergency Management on Tuesday afternoon, May 19, outside the Lee County Administrative Office Building where we spoke to him in a courtyard while practicing social distancing. “Traditionally, the early part of the season offers up only moderate activity for the first couple of months, so we want the public to become part of the preparation process, like we do every year, but the COVID-19 virus complicates that. We encourage our citizens to start their Hurricane Supply Kits before we get deep into the season, so you can best prepare not only for yourself but your family, businesses and employees.”

“Now is the time to prepare for Hurricane Season” advises Lee Mayfield, Lee County Director of Public Safety & Emergency Management. Photo by Gary Mooney.

Mayfield addressed the always difficult decision people must make when potentially in harm’s way of an approaching hurricane. Do you evacuate, remain in your own home or flee to a Lee County shelter? “The closer you live to the coast, the more we encourage you to evacuate, but that does not necessarily mean hopping in your car and driving up north. If you know someone who lives inland, from roughly I-75 toward the State’s interior, especially if they are in a relatively new home that meets current wind-resistant standards, try to make arrangements now to shelter with them. Include in your hurricane supplies enough disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers and be ready to social distance at least 6 feet apart if you are not with immediate family members.”

Not Your First Option

He stressed that a Lee County shelter “should be your last and not first option! If you have a sturdy well-built home with hurricane shutters that is outside one of the main flooding evacuation zones, or you can evacuate to a friend’s house or even an inland hotel or motel, consider those first. While that has always been our message, this year, due to coronavirus concerns, we double-down on that. If you can stay in your own home or a friend or family member’s house that is outside the main storm surge areas, you will be much more comfortable and less stressed than in a public shelter.”

If a Lee County shelter is your final option, however, Mayfield’s crews are making appropriate precautions. “We will open as many shelters as possible, to ensure the best social distancing measures, and we enjoy an excellent relationship with the Lee County School District should we need more of their facilities. This is still a work in progress, so while we will ask everyone to bring a face mask with them, we don’t know yet if we will require you to wear one inside the shelter; that will probably depend on how close people are to each other or if we can provide at least 6 feet of social distancing space between the various family groups. We are examining whether we will take everyone’s temperature before you can enter the shelter or during your stay, with those who do have a fever or other health concerns going to special medical shelters or isolated areas within each one. Our staff in charge of the shelters will have extra cleaning supplies and best practices training to pay special attention to high-touch surfaces and areas, like doors and restrooms. We work closely with the Lee County Department of Health, as well as our State and Federal partners, to institute the appropriate measures, to have as many tools in our toolbox as we can.”

Hurricane Prep Essentials

Lee County offers Special Needs Shelters for those with medical needs, but you must register for those spaces every year in advance at 239-533-0622 or through the “Emergency Management” page at leegov.com. “Register at AlertLee.com for all emergency warnings,” advised Mayfield, “and its companion app is Lee Prepares. These are terrific resources for hurricane kit preparation information.”

Mayfield urged every Lee County family to have enough essentials to last without outside assistance for up to seven days. “We are in a difficult economy right now,” he acknowledged, “with many people still out of work or their hours cut back, so what we recommend is that every time you go to the store, buy a little bit of what you will need on every trip, like a case or two of water, a half dozen or so canned goods, along with batteries and other essential items. Since all of these are non-perishable, none will expire before the end of Hurricane Season. As we are still a few months away from the peak months, by purchasing a little each week throughout the summer, by the time a storm may hit, you should have all the supplies you need. If we are fortunate enough to not have a storm, then you can enjoy the food throughout the fall and winter. A key component is medication, and since we can give you a warning several days prior to an approaching storm, most pharmacies will let you get refills in advance.”

When asked what one or two things people tend to overlook in their hurricane preparations, Mayfield suggested, “Write down on a piece of paper all your key telephone numbers, should you lose power for several days and are unable to recharge your cellphone. If you are pet owner, make sure you have their medical records and enough food and water for them, including medications. If you must take your pet to a shelter, not all accept them, so check in advance. We realize, however, that many will not evacuate if they cannot take their pets, so we are ready to be flexible depending on the situation. You must have your pet in a carrier for shelter admittance, so have that ready as well. Finally, please know your hurricane evacuation zone, and in Lee County, they are Zones A through E, with ‘A’ at the greatest risk, and obviously that includes Fort Myers Beach, so have a plan where you can head to an inland area.”

Mayfield wants all Lee County residents to pay close attention to weather forecasts throughout Hurricane Season, then be ready to act based on their individual plan. “One of the few great things about a hurricane is they do not sneak up on us, and we can often give you a forewarning of up to a week in advance.”

He offered special advice for Fort Myers Beach residents. “You are at a real risk of storm surge, as that can literally overwhelm your island. You are most definitely in the prime evacuation zone, so please leave when Lee County issues that alert. For the protection of your family, have your plan in place to shelter somewhere on the opposite side of the bridges, as that is your best and safest option.”