It's preparation time once again for hurricane season, which began last Saturday. Town of Fort Myers Beach officials and various Lee County agencies, jurisdictions, government levels and volunteer organizations have prepped and organized for disaster and emergency hazards that may come from any storm that may impact Estero Island between now and November 30.
Being a barrier island, Beach residents are expected to heed the advice of experts and ready themselves for possible evacuation. That means one must prepare in advance, expect the unexpected and listen to news reports that may directly or indirectly affect loved ones.
"If a storm hits of any significance, we are going to be evacuating," said Town Manager Terry Stewart. "Because we are a low-lying island, we are always the first to be evacuated."
This month last year, Tropical Storm Debby made its impact on Estero Island with high winds and surf that disturbed businesses at Times Square, on the Beach Pier and on the beachfront.
Experts are predicting a busy Atlantic hurricane season for 2013, which kicks off Saturday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center released the Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook for the season recently. Weather forecasters are expecting an active or extremely active season for the Atlantic basin for the year.
"They look at the signals that are becoming obvious in April and May that may give some clues as to how the season will shape up," Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said.
Experts are anticipating 13 to 20 named storms. Of the named storms, seven to 11 are predicted to become hurricanes, with three to six forecasted to become major hurricanes - a Category 3, 4, or 5. A normal level of activity is about 12 storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
"So, all of those ranges there (for 2013) are all above the normals," he said.
It may be close to 10 years ago since Hurricane Charley bore down on Southwest Florida and caused a mandatory evacuation and significant damage to our island infrastructure. FEMA records show that this particular area of Southwest Florida has been affected or brushed by a hurricane or tropical storm roughly once every three years.
Last year, the Beach was impacted by Tropical Storm Debby in June and Tropical Storm Isaac in August. These storms, like many others, bring storm surge, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, high winds, tornadoes and rip currents.
There are eight measures for Town officials to aid in protecting the public. The first is preparedness.
"One must get the appropriate supplies, food and a route to evacuate," said Stewart. "I encourage people to have a place to go, a route to get there and supplies that they will need while they are away from their homes. They should also make sure they get their reentry passes."
The Town's Emergency Operations Plan is consistent with the National Incident Management System and the Lee County Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and describes and details actions to be executed following the declaration of an emergency affecting Fort Myers Beach. Besides preparedness, the seven essentials are 2) resource acquisition and management; 3) warnings, communication and public information; 4) response; 5) evacuation; 6) health and medical needs; 7) infrastructure restoration and recovery; and 8) mitigation.
Go to www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov to view the entire plan.
Fort Myers Beach is located within an area of Coastal High Hazard, as defined in Florida Statutes, Chapter 163.3178. All life and property on Estero Island is especially vulnerable to destruction by high winds and flooding caused by hurricanes, and their accompanying tornadoes and heavy rainfall. Large areas of the island are subject to damage from wave action of flood waters. Life and property may also be endangered by the insufficient precautions of others, when wave action batters structures with unsecured debris and wreckage of destroyed structures.
Evacuation is limited by the two exit points from the Town, necessitating advanced warning. During an emergency, utility services may be disabled, and may continue to be nonfunctional for extended periods. Public safety may be impaired through lack of police and fire protection and emergency medical response. Downed power lines, gas leaks, and damage to structures can cause safety hazards, and basic necessities such as food, fresh water, and gasoline may be unavailable for extended periods.
During Hurricane Charley, many residents who did not heed the mandatory evacuation warning experienced the downed power lines, unsafe driving conditions due to debris across Estero Boulevard and the lack of emergency officials to help them in their dire needs.
During 2012, 19 named storms formed, including Debbie, Isaac and Sandy. Forecasters originally predicted a near average season last May, later updating the outlook in August for an active season.
"They thought El Nino was going to form," Feltgen said, adding that it did not happen.
This year's forecast also will be updated in early August.
Feltgen emphasized that the outlook is not a hurricane landfall forecast.
"That kind of long-range science does not exist," he said. "This should never be used as a guide to determine if you need to prepare or not - you've got to be prepared."
Warmer than average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea are once again playing a part, along with the lack of El Nino and the increase in wind sheer that comes with it.
"That would suppress the formation of hurricanes," Feltgen said. "It all points to an active hurricane season once again."
SERT hosts annual hurricane exercise
From May 20-23, Florida's State Emergency Response Team hosted the 2013 Statewide Hurricane Exercise at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. The annual exercise served to practice Florida's emergency plans and procedures for a potential hurricane making landfall in the state, in preparation for the Atlantic Hurricane Season. Along with federal, local and private-sector partners, FDEM will simulate emergency response efforts to manage an evolving hurricane scenario.
"Last year, Floridians were reminded of the significant impacts a tropical system can have on a community," said Bryan W. Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "Hurricanes and tropical storms are a reality of life in Florida, and I encourage all residents and visitors to take the opportunity to review their emergency plans and disaster supply kits in preparation for the upcoming Atlantic Hurricane Season."
The 2013 Statewide Hurricane Exercise scenario centered on the potential landfall of two fictitious storms, Hurricane Kirk and Hurricane Lay. Hurricane Lay is named in honor of the late Brevard County Emergency Management Director Bob Lay, a nationally respected emergency manager.
This year, the annual hurricane exercise included participants from 11 different states and the United States Military. The exercise served as an important opportunity to strengthen plans and relationships among local, state, federal, and private sector partners.
For more information about the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season in Florida, and to Get A Plan!, visit www.FloridaDisaster.org, and follow FDEM on Twitter at @FLSERT, on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/FloridaSERT and www.Facebook.com/KidsGetAPlan.
Hurricane names for 2013
This year's A through W lineup of storm names include Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Ingrid, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van and Wendy.
Lee County Emergency Shelters near the Beach
There are many emergency shelters throughout Lee County. Some that are close in relative proximity to Estero Island include Heights Elementary School, South Fort Myers High School and, to a larger degree, Alico Arena and Germain Arena.
Classification of hurricanes
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale classifies hurricanes into five categories based on their wind speed, central pressure, and damage potential.
The categories are separated as follows:
- One - 6482 kts (7495 mph)
- Two - 8395 kts (96110 mph)
- Three - 96112 kts (111129 mph)
- Four - 113136 kts (130156 mph)
- Five - more than 137 kts (157 mph)
Who makes the Beach call
Whenever an emergency exists, a quorum of the Town Council can declare a state of
emergency. If no quorum exists, the state of local emergency may be declared by, in
order, the Mayor, Vice Mayor, or the Town Manager or designee. Upon the declaration
of a state of emergency the Town Manager or designee(s) will have the authority to direct and coordinate the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). The EOP will include procedures
to implement the policies set forth in Ordinance 06-12 and be consistent with county emergency management plans.
Town offers 2013 Re Entry Pass/ Code Red Notification
The Town of Fort Myers Beach is registering Estero Island residents and business owners for re-entry passes for the 2013 hurricane seasons.
Registration location is at Fort Myers Beach Town Hall during regular business hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Monday thru Friday. Please allow several days for processing.
Application can be obtained via website www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov or at Town of Hall at 2523 Estero Blvd. Applicant must complete application and supply supporting documents to qualify for issuance of passes.
To expedite the process, bring 2012 tags or re-entry pass numbers and Photo I.D. Proof of residency is required. The owner, tenant and business should have one of the following: utility bill, P.M. license, lease, deed/tax bill, occupational license, business tax bill or company letter authorizing pass issuance.
The Town is also encouraging all Town residents and business owners to update their Code Red Notification registration. The Town uses the Code Red Notification system to notify those registered of important information during an emergency situation and precautionary boil water notifications. It is necessary to update registration when you move locations on the island or change a phone number or e-mail address.
Registration is handled through the Town's website at www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov under the "For Islanders" section of the Home Page.
Department of Health & Human Services steps
There are many steps that one can take to keep you and your family safe. They include:
- Discuss with your family what you will do if you need to evacuate. Where will you meet? What will you take with you? How will you check in so that you'll know who is okay and who isn't?
If you have a pet, make a plan for your pet if you have to evacuate.
- Get backups for things you need every day: Do you have backup clean drinking water? Do you have a backup supply of medication, and a copy of your current prescription?
- If you use electricity to run medical equipment (like a nebulizer, oxygen concentrator, or ventilator) or to keep your medication refrigerated, do you know where to go if the power goes out? Do you know where you can go to recharge your batteries? Do you know who you will call if you need help getting there?
- Do you have a backup copy of your medical record? You can ask your doctor to print a copy for you, or save an electronic copy in the cloud or on an external hard drive or enter the information into a smart phone or tablet application.
- Make sure you know how to use a backup generator safely. Remember to keep it outdoors and away from windows to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Talk to your friends and family about your emergency plans. Establish family and friends as your lifelines, and talk about how you could help each other and communicate during and after a hurricane.
- If you know a storm is coming, follow the instructions of your local emergency officials. If they suggest evacuating, get out of harm's way.
- Make sure to fully charge your cell phone or other mobile devices so you can communicate after a storm. Plan to text, email, or use social media to let everyone know you're okay so phone lines remain open for first responders.
--information received from Town and FEMA websites and various agencies through Florida. Cape Coral Breeze's Tiffany Repecki contributed to this report.