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City's hurricane seminar stresses preparedness

June 6, 2014
By MCKENZIE CASSIDY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Hundreds of islanders attended the 2014 City of Sanibel Hurricane Seminar on May 30.

The free annual seminar was held inside of BIG ARTS and offered important information from emergency officials from the city and Lee County, as well as the chance to register for a Hurricane Reentry Pass.

Although an April report from Colorado State University pointed to a season with below-average activity, the officials at the seminar told islanders to still be prepared.

Article Photos

NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Ivan taken Sept. 15, 2004. NOAA.

"The people who came to hurricane seminars and picked up the information were light years ahead for Charley," said Dave Roberts, the city's weather consultant.

Hurricane Charley hit the region in 2004 with 143 mile per hour winds and caused a significant amount of damage to the island. Nine years have passed since a hurricane came within 50 miles of the island, but Roberts said he didn't want people to forego hurricane planning just because it's been quiet.

On average, a hurricane has hit every eight years, according to historical data presented by Roberts, and the peak time for hurricanes on Sanibel Island was between Sept. 7-27. Looking at all of the data available, he said the longest gap between hurricanes on the island was 40 years, while for tropical storms it was 16 years.

Jim Bjostad, the county's new manager of the Emergency Management Program, said islanders should never consider "riding out" a storm if orders have been made to evacuate. He said it's difficult to predict a storm's potential damage until it's too late.

"We don't really know until the storm gets close how high the surge is going to be or the winds," he said. "Respect the wind, but fear the surge."

He explained that storm surge is responsible for more damage and fatalities than strong winds. It takes Lee County approximately 48 hours to complete a full evacuation, yet officials rarely know if a storm is going to hit until 48 hours before. It doesn't leave much time.

"I want you all to think about thinking ahead," said Bjostad.

Lt. William Dalton, Emergency Management Director for the City of Sanibel, described how Southwest Florida is the most difficult place to evacuate in the United States, more so than Florida's southeast coast or even New York City.

He explained that the city has a Hurricane Action Plan and employees are prepared to work outside of their regularly assigned duties during an emergency. Once the plan is initiated, the city has a 72 hour action timeline until the storm hits.

If the island is evacuated, a temporary City Hall is established at the Crowne Plaza in Fort Myers. Elected officials and staff will conduct city business from that location: briefing the media and public, issuing hurricane passes, and licensing contractors.

Islanders should ensure that they have a city-issued Hurricane Reentry Pass to be able to quickly get back on the island after any major storms. The last series released was 2012 and it's still valid. Residential passes are bright orange and commercial passes are blue.

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