Fort Myers Beach Hurricane Prep

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Barrier Island Readiness Crucial

With Fort Myers Beach and all of the eastern and southeastern United States now in hurricane season, safety officials urge that now – not when a storm is on the radar and you are in the cone of danger, but now – is the time to conduct your hurricane planning. In the June 2 edition of The Island Sand Paper, we covered basic steps; this week we spoke with Division Chief Randy Kraus and Executive Assistant Chief Ronald Martin of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District about island specifics; to reference the June 2 article, see fortmyersbeach.news.

“The FMB Fire Control District already started our preparations about two months ago,” say Division Chief Kraus. “Our stations are ready, emergency contact information up-to-date on our employees, we reviewed policies and procedures, and stocked up on supplies like water, meals and cots. Fire District personnel evacuate if that notice comes through, but since we are the first ones to return, we must be ready for anything.” “We target hazard areas, like construction sites, where wind can send flying projectiles, as well as businesses that store stuff like propane,” adds Chief Martin. “When we say target hazards, we mean places that can trigger a horrible event that can forever change the face of Fort Myers Beach, like the Balgas field, because if a big propane tank lets loose, that can be a very bad thing!”

Fort Myers Beach is not a very diverse economy, emphasized Chief Ron. “We are basically tourism, on an island full of small family-owned businesses. Statistics say, in a demographic like ours, a major disaster like a direct hurricane hit can wipe out the commercial base to the point that 30% or more will never reopen, so our business owners need a plan to not only survive the storm with their lives but their livelihoods. Your plan should include the safety of your employees and their families, as they are not only victims too, but are indispensable to you to quickly get back on your feet, as your future relies on their well-being. Find out if you can operate from a remote site for a while, to ensure that Fort Myers Beach does not change.”

Store data in several ways, including hard copies at an off-island location, computer files and a storage cloud. In a critical situation, the loss of business data is the #1 contributing factor to failure, while #2 is not having a plan for your staff, your most vital resource. Access more information on this from the Lee County Emergency Business Network, administered through the Division of Public Safety, with preparedness tips, available resources, and post-storm emergency funding to reopen as soon as possible.

 

Code Red Emergency Alert

Chief Kraus recommends that all beach residents go online to get helpful tips and details, including necessary items for your Hurricane Readiness Kit and special needs shelters, at the Lee County Emergency Management website at www.leegov.com > Public Safety > Emergency Management. “While there, sign up for the free Code Red Emergency Alert app that you download on your cell, as this sends out emergency messages throughout Lee County, including about the Town. I even have it on my own phone!”

“When a disaster occurs,” adds Chief Martin, “like a hurricane, tornado, flood or, heaven forbid, an act of terrorism, your emergency responders are victims too, because we are a part of the community, so it is absolutely critical you get your family through the first 72 to 96 hours after a catastrophic event on your own, so plan now, as when we are in the cone of uncertainty, it may be too late. It is now many, many years since Fort Myers Beach had a direct hit; most think it was Charley in 2004, but that was not direct. You need to go all the way back to Donna in September 1960, when roughly three-quarters of all the buildings on the island suffered some damage. While that is now a long time ago, many do recall Charley, so imagine it that went right across the island.”

Preparedness begins with individual residents, Chief Martin continues: “Start with the standards, with plenty of water and non-perishable food for everyone, a battery-operated weather radio, and old-fashion hand-operated can opener, because you can have all the canned goods in the world, but if the power goes out and your electric opener does not work, you are in trouble. Along this same line, carry CASH! In our computer-dominated society, a lot of people pay for things electronically, but when the power goes out, cash is king!”

 

Grab & Go!

Your Hurricane Readiness Kit should contain vital records like birth certificates, social security cards, drivers’ license, insurance policies and like material. “It should have at least a one-week supply of medications,” adds Chief Ron. “This is important, as our residents trend toward an older demographic. Your medical care is essential, in case you go to a shelter or, God forbid, cannot return home. Gather all this into a water-proof envelope or container, so all you have to do is grab that one receptacle and go.”

Chief Kraus said a large segment of the beach community has at least one special family member: “It seems like everyone on Fort Myers Beach has a pet, way more than those with young children, and no one will leave them behind, and you shouldn’t! Make sure your Hurricane Readiness Kit contains everything your pet needs, like food, water, and prescriptions. Unfortunately, most Lee County shelters do not take pets, and people overwhelm the few that do, but there is a new plan in the works this year to use Lee County schools as pet shelters. Again, get that information from the Lee County Emergency Management page. Know in advance where you can go with your pet so you are not turned away from one shelter, and have to scramble to another while in the path of danger.”

He stresses that if an evacuation for Fort Myers Beach is ordered, and you voluntarily chose to stay behind, “know you really are on your own, as Fire District personnel leave! Lee County shuts down all bridges once the sustained wind reaches 40 miles-per-hour, so if you have a catastrophe and call 911, no one is coming until emergency support returns after the storm and sorts through the 911 call backlog to determine our order of response. To hammer the point home, the biggest piece of advice we can give you is to ‘Prepare, Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!’”

 

hurricane charlie, fort myers beach
Storm surge washed out this driveway on the island. Island Sand Paper archives.

Live & Learn

Chief Martin was with the FMB Fire Control District during Hurricane Charley, when island residents received an evacuation notice. “A good percentage then did leave; I would say more did evacuate than stayed,” he recollected, “but many remained because they lived through so many previous storms. When I came back on the island after Charley, I recollect two major things: there were three-foot-high sand dunes right in the middle of Estero Boulevard, and we found propane gas tanks right in the middle of that, so that is why we mitigate propane tanks and other safety steps, as you learn things after every event.”

tropical storm, estero island
Multiple propane tanks in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley. Island Sand Paper archives.

Fort Myers Beach residents and businesses, should an evacuation become a necessity, will need a hurricane reentry pass, with these available at Town Hall. Pick up an application at Town Hall or online at www.fmbgov.com under “Community > For Islanders.” Applicants must provide a photo ID and proof of residency; for details call the Town at 239-765-0202 or see the website. For additional information, contact Lee County Emergency Management at 239-533-0622, see www.LeeEOC.com, or call the United Way Storm Information Hotline at 211.

“We stress again, ‘Prepare – Prepare – Prepare – Prepare,’” said Chief Ron! “The better you prepare in advance, the better off you will be after the storm. Coordinate with your loved ones up north so they not only will not worry, but they can be the clearinghouse for your family to stay in contact with each other should you separate in the crisis.” “You want to plan, and prepare your Hurricane Readiness Kit,” concluded Chief Randy, “with the ultimate hope is that in late Fall, when the hurricane season is done, you open up the perishable foods and celebrate with a picnic that we had a good year, and enjoy again our visitors and all that terrible traffic!”

 

Gary Mooney