Sanibel city and county officials hosted a preseason hurricane seminar last Friday at BIG Arts to acquaint residents with the responsibilities that come with living and working on a barrier island.
The 44 attendees received a copy of the 2012 All-Hazards Guide containing valuable information for preparation, evacuation and recovery from a storm event. City hurricane passes were made available as well. Passes can be obtained at Sanibel PD headquarters 9 a.m.-5 p.m. any weekday with a photo ID and any proof of residency.
"By a show of hands about two-thirds of the audience were new residents," said Sanibel Police Chief Bill Tomlinson. "Most of them were not here for Charley."
National Hurricane Preparedness Week was observed this week, through June 2, which marks the beginning of the Atlantic Hurricane Season. Floridians need to be aware and prepared through Hurricane Season which ends on Dec. 1.
Sanibel weather consultant Dave Roberts, county Emergency Operations Center chief Gerald Campbell, Sanibel Fire training officer Capt. Tim Barrett, Harold Law of the Sanibel Building Department and Tomlinson, who doubles as the city's emergency management director, spoke on their respective topics.
Roberts laid out the probabilities of a storm hitting Sanibel, indicating that no matter what the probabilities are it only takes one storm. Whether hurricane season is busy or slow is irrelevant - always pay attention to the weather.
Preparedness topics included the barrier islands being the first to evacuate in the event of a storm and what shelters are open, especially locations for people with special medical needs or with pets tagging along. Fort Myers High School is the current shelter to accept pets.
"Sanibel is a flood zone," said Tomlinson. "There is no safe place on the island."
County officials urged residents to have a family disaster plan by assembling items they need to survive and to know in advance where they will go during the storm. Procedures to return to the island were discussed along with the stipulation that water and electricity service might be interrupted.
Barrett addressed the search and rescue operations of the fire department and Law stressed that residents use licensed contractors to make any repairs to assure the property remains insurable.
"We've improved a lot of things after Charley," said Tomlinson. "We can email notices to residents, directly call every house by phone and as a last-ditch effort go door to door to make sure everyone has evacuated."
Island passes were wallet size after Charley, but now are designed to hang on the rearview mirror.
"People don't have to slow down to show the pass," said Tomlinson. "You can see the hangtags coming."
Other hurricane seminars scheduled in the coming months will be announced in advance.