Hurricane season has begun and with it the anxieties of new storms on the horizon. With the scars of Irma still fresh in the minds of many Florida residents, it becomes more pressing than ever to be informed about the nature of hurricanes and what one should do if another happens to strike the area.
The first line of defense for all residents of Collier County is the Emergency Services Center, headed by the director Dan Summers. “We are actively involved 365 days a year,” says Summers, monitoring for all multihazard threats including hurricanes. They recently unveiled a system called Alert Collier, a service you register for online which sends emergency response alerts and updates straight to your mobile phone – it can be accessed at Collier County’s government website. “Alert Collier is a big push for us,” Summers added, noting how it could prove to be a potent tool which can help better inform county residents and provide important information in such events like hurricanes.
In the probable event of a tropical storm hitting the area, it’s best to plan ahead to evacuate. In areas like Marco Island, pre-planning is important as the bridges to and from the island are closed when sustained winds get too high. Evacuation plans are especially important if the hurricane reaches upwards of a category four or five. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale notes storms of this kind can reach over 130 mph and can cause significant damage to all structures and utilities, including flattening mobile homes and older houses, leaving some areas without accessible food or water for days, weeks or even a month.
The most important part of an evacuation plan is to know where it is and where your destination will be. Look at a map and check all the roads out of your local area and always have a destination in mind, whether that be to stay with another family member or at a hotel out of the storm’s path. Be sure to monitor the routes recommended by local authorities and head out early before traffic becomes congested.
Before leaving it’s also important to pack the essentials: water, grocery items, clothes medical kit, a battery-powered radio/flashlight, important documents in a waterproof container. For those with pets, preemptively contact Domestic Animal Services at 252-7287 so that you might be able to plan how to take care of them in the event of an impending hurricane. In 2017, during when Hurricane Irma approached Florida, the governor made it mandatory for hotels to accept pets in an effort to encourage their owners to evacuate.
Additional services are available for the elderly and those with special needs through the county government. A special needs registry is available for those who might not be able to make it out otherwise. “Registering in advance tells us what your needs are,” Summers explains, but also warns that space in the Collier County shelter is limited and is the last resort for those with more pressing needs – and they shall be granted priority.
Whether staying or leaving, securing your home is among one of the greatest priorities, not only to reduce damage to your property but also prevent possible damage to others as well. “Your insurance is your first line of defense,” Summers said, insisting that all residents within hurricane risk zones should read over and understand the full extent of their insurance policy. For those living in areas at risk of flooding, flood insurance is also highly recommended to cover the damage from the rain and storm surges. Many mortgage companies require adequate insurance to offset their risk.
Making sure you have enough food and water to last through the storm is vital, be sure to gather about three to five days’ worth at least – canned goods and non-perishables preferred. Toiletries such as disinfectant, toilet paper, and other personal hygiene items should also be stored in case plumbing happens to no longer be available for some time. Other items such as battery-powered radios, matches for your grill, coolers, and medical supplies should also be part of your hurricane shopping list. A full list of recommended supplies can be found not only on the Collier County’s website but others as well such as Ready.gov
In areas which may be subject to high winds any objects which might serve as a wind-blown hazard should be removed, such as coconuts or pool deck furniture. In the case of the former if you cannot personally cut down or remove the coconuts or other hanging tree hazards many professional yard-care companies may accomplish the service. For deck items move them inside where they can’t become projectiles.
If at all possible try to secure valuable items in a dry and waterproof area it is best to do so hours, or days, before the storm makes landfall. For insurance and safekeeping be sure to take pictures of any items you presume might be damaged or lost.
For boat owners, extra care must be taken in securing your vessel in preparation for the storm surge if you have no way of getting it out of the storm’s path in time. Be sure to check the rigging and how it’s secured to its dock or mooring as if it breaks loose and ends up in someone’s house one could be liable for the damages. Take inventory of all the items present in the boat and properly secure them so nothing is broken during the hurricane. Duct tape hatches and lock all windows. For additional materials and assistance on securing your vessel, inquire at the Coast Guard Auxiliary, your marina or online.
Local chain stores and supermarkets have provided their own supplementary material and can assist during a hurricane or severe weather event. “We welcome their engagement with us,” Summers said.
After Irma in 2017 which affected 47 counties in the state the staff at the Emergency Services Center, “Learned to appreciate to account for the unknown,” Summers said and is thus broadening the scope of their emergency plans into the coming years. This has resulted in a larger push towards using automated systems such as Alert Collier and other initiatives to better keep the public safe and aware of the dangers presented by hurricanes.
The goal is to keep vigilant and always be prepared with every coming hurricane season. With the material provided by Collier County and the City of Marco Island websites, among others, it’s advised to begin planning now – it could make all the difference.