FMB Hurricane Prep 2019

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The 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 through November 30. With Fort Myers Beach a barrier island, hurricane precautions are more important than for most Florida communities. Executive Assistant Chief of Life Safety & Support Services Ron Martin, who has 16 years with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department (FMBFD), and Deputy Fire Marshal & Risk Reduction Officer Jennifer Campbell discussed hurricane season preparation. Campbell joined the FMBFD in February, after 22 years with the Fort Myers Fire Department, including the last eight as Fire Marshal.

“We all enjoy living and working and playing on a barrier island,” said Chief Martin. “But that carries extra responsibilities, so hurricane advance planning and preparation is the key. We can suffer from everything from storm surge to wind damage to flash flooding, and we are in the primary Evacuation Zone A, so be ready to leave the island if the Lee County Emergency Operations Center issues that order.” “We live on an island,” added Campbell, “with the only access points being two bridges and those close when sustained Tropical Force winds reach 40 miles-per-hour, so we don’t have the luxury of time when it comes to evacuating.” “At that point, even we leave Fort Myers Beach,” stressed Chief Martin. “We safely house our staff and store our equipment, to be ready to respond after the storm.”

Chief Martin recommended that you have 3-4 days’ worth of supplies for each family member, and that includes your pets! “You need one gallon of drinking water per person per day, along with lots of nonperishable food. Have plenty of batteries and flashlights and a battery-powered weather radio, and everything you will need to safeguard your life after the storm, like homeowner, flood and auto insurance policies and other pertinent documents in waterproof bags, with your list of emergency contacts as well. We recommend a month’s worth of medications, and keep cash on-hand, as when the power goes out, credit and ATM cards are no good to you, making cash king!”

Fire Marshal Campbell wants everyone to keep full tanks of gas in their cars. “This is essential not only for evacuations, but once a storm is over, if you do not have power, you can sit in your car and cool off with its air conditioning. You can also get gas from your car to power a generator. If you are going to store gas, do it only in specifically designed containers and not in some random type of canister.”

Not Your First Option

Chief Martin cautioned that a Lee County Emergency Shelter should never be your primary hurricane evacuation option. “They are crowded, not comfortable, and you may be there three to five days and nights or longer. The best thing to do is to evacuate well out of the area and the projected hurricane cone, to ride out the storm safely and comfortably with family and friends, and the key to that is to evacuate early, to beat the traffic, jam-packed roads and gasoline shortages. Also, designate one family member, who hopefully lives safely far away from the hurricane zone, as the information clearinghouse with who you will check in with, then everyone else can keep track of you through them. If you cannot travel well out of the area, at least get east of I-75, though there is no for-sure safe place in Lee County, as a 30-mile storm wobble can make a huge difference.”

If it looks like your best evacuation option, however, is a Lee County shelter and you have special medical needs, “you must pre-register for the Special Medical Sites, so do that now,” Marshal Campbell related. “Do all these things now,” emphasized Chief Martin. “Don’t wait until you are standing in line with everyone else, trying to get your hands on diminishing resources. This is true of your Hurricane Reentry Passes for your home and business, so if you do not have them, get them as soon as you can from Town Hall.”

Remember your pets as well, he said. “They need their food, water and medications, along with immunization records you must show at a shelter, and bring a pet carrier, as you cannot let them run loose. Hurricanes are stressful situations for them too, so your normally lovable dog may not be, during these times.” Marshal Campbell suggested you check with Lee County for pet-friendly shelters so you can register in advance, “but during Hurricane Irma, they took you in even if you had a pet, as it is impossible to turn anyone away in an emergency like that.”

Inside/Outside

While you are bringing in supplies, prepare the outside of your home as well. “Trim back your trees, especially any around power lines or transformers,” said Chief Martin. “If you have palms, get rid of the coconuts that can become dangerous flying projectiles. Stock up plywood if you need it to cover your windows, or make sure your hurricane shutters are in perfect working order, but remember to take these down as soon as you can after the storm, so you can evacuate your home or we can reach you in a fire.” “Store away any loose objects,” said Marshal Campbell. “Even if that means sinking your lawn furniture into your swimming pool, so it does not fly away. If you tie off a boat, leave slack in the line to take into account the rise and fall of the water; if you have one on land, fill it half way up with water to make it even heavier and more secure.”

“Know the location of all your utility breakers,” advised Chief Martin, “so you can safely and quickly turn off your electricity, water and natural gas, as the last thing you should do before evacuating or the storm hits is to turn all those off.”

Both safety experts advise extreme caution in operating gas-powered generators. “Keep generators at least 10 feet from not only your home, but your neighbors,” said Campbell, “and never wire them to your home yourself, but hire a licensed electrician.” “Never fuel them while they are hot or running,” added Martin. “Make sure you have at least one carbon dioxide monitor in your home, as after Hurricane Irma, we had a few close calls from people who were not feeling well, and we discovered their dizziness was the result of high carbon dioxide, so well-ventilate your home.” “Never overload your generator,” Campbell related. “A standard-size generator cannot safely operate your air conditioning, large fans and refrigerator.” “Read your owner’s manual,” Martin offered, “and talk to an electrician or manufacturer to know its safety limits.”

Small Business Island Community

hurricane prep, fort myers beach, 2019
Deputy Fire Marshal Jennifer Campbell & Deputy Fire Chief Ron Martin discuss FMB Hurricane Preparation. Photo by Gary Mooney.

Marshal Campbell said that, should a hurricane strike our region, “social media is your best friend! It is not only the best way to disseminate public information, but perhaps equally as important, to squash untrue rumors.” “Get on the Lee County Emergency Operation Center’s new app, Lee Prepares,” agreed Chief Martin. “That has a wealth of information for before, during and after a hurricane.”

The FMBFD has already completed its hurricane preparations, said Martin. “We began reviewing and readying our plan in mid-April, including supplies; knock wood we will not need them in an uneventful season. This means that our personnel have their family plans in place, because our employees cannot concentrate on helping you if they are worried about their own loved ones.”

He hoped the FMBFD plan serves as the model for all Fort Myers Beach businesses. “We are at heart a small business island community,” Chief Martin related. “It is these quaint, charming, often family businesses that keep tourists coming back every year, and why many of us love to call Fort Myers Beach home, but sadly 30% of all small businesses never reopen after a hurricane or similar tragedy. This is more than about economics, however, but is essential to the feel of the island, as there is a comfort level about being able to again go to your favorite coffee shop or restaurant and interconnecting with the people who make you feel comfortable about your situation, in believing that everything will one day be normal again.”

Chief Martin does not want Fort Myers Beach residents to feel that they can remain on the island based on their previous experiences from recent Hurricanes Charley, Wilma and Irma. “Remember that a major hurricane has not hit us directly since Donna in September 1960, so that is now several generations ago. That said, I am very proud of the reaction from the Fort Myers Beach community with Irma in September 2017, as almost the entire beach evacuated, then their return was very orderly, so everyone did a great job! People heeded our advice to plan and prepare back then, to be ready for the worst while hoping for the best, and we want them to do that as well for the 2019 Hurricane Season!”

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news