With the 2014 hurricane season set to kick off, the city of Cape Coral encourages residents to become informed on storm surge and evacuation zones and to make a plan ahead of time and prepare a kit.
Hurricane season is recognized as June 1 through November 30.
"In Cape Coral, emergency management staff continues to work toward educating the public on evacuation zones due to the latest storm surge maps issued just a few years ago," Ellen Seeley, an emergency management coordinator with the Cape Coral Fire Department, said.
The updated maps note an expansion of the Category A, B and C zones, which make up the city.
"Know your zone," she said. "Based on the store surge maps and actual data specific to each storm, you may be required to evacuate sooner than in the past."
For example, citizens living south of Cape Coral Parkway may be asked to evacuate when Sanibel, Pine Island and Fort Myers Beach do. A phased evacuation approach will be used by the Cape and Lee County to respond to the threat of storm surge.
"Each storm is different and it is critical to listen to local media and public officials when they make evacuation requests," Seeley said. "Remember, hide from wind and run from water."
In the event of an evacuation, residents should know what routes to take to get out of the city. Evacuation signs are posted on the major roads; learn the safe routes inland, north, south or east.
"You may be asked to evacuate north toward Tampa, east toward Orlando or south to the Miami area, depending on the direction and intensity of the storm, even while it is still sunny," she said.
Seeley noted that the best plan for a storm is to leave early and get out of harm's way.
"The earlier you leave, the better the choice of hotels," she said. "Plus, you can avoid the inevitable traffic jam that will occur should a massive evacuation take place."
If a storm shelter is the only option, citizens should learn the locations of those in the Cape and in other parts of Lee County. A list can be found in the phone book and in the Lee County All Hazards Guide.
"Storm shelters are in short supply in Cape Coral," Seeley said. "Because of the lack of space, shelters only should be used as a last resort."
Pets are not allowed in general population shelters, but limited availability will be made at South Fort myers High School, with certain restrictions. For details, contact Lee County Emergency Management at (239) 533-0622.
Residents requiring medical assistance, such as oxygen or the monitoring of a medical problem, or those who need help getting to a shelter can register for the Special Needs Shelters in advance. To sign up for early for a spot in a Special Needs Shelter, call Lee County Public Safety at (239) 533-0640.
"Do not wait until the last minute as this could delay assistance," she said.
Putting together a disaster preparedness kit ahead of time is also essential. Have enough food, water and medication for each person for five to seven days. With the Southwest Florida heat, plan on having one gallon of water per person per day. Remember to have food, water and a carrier on hand for pets.
"There are a number of items necessary to have on hand to help weather a storm," Seeley said.
A list of supplies can be found online through the American Red Cross at: www.redcross.org, the Florida Division of Emergency Management at: www.floridadisaster.org, the Lee County Emergency Management at: www.leeeoc.com or Federal Emergency Management Agency at: www.fema.gov.
Citizens without access to the Internet can pick up a copy of the Lee County All Hazards Guide from the Cape Coral Fire Department/Emergency Operations Center or Cape Coral City Hall. The Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral also carries copies of the free guide, as do the public libraries in the city.
"The city of Cape Coral continues to be committed to working with Lee County in the event of an impending storm," she said. "The state and county agencies are responsible for evacuation decisions and opening of shelters. We will make every effort to warn Cape Coral residents via the media of the status of the storm, conditions in Cape Coral and the availability of shelters."
On June 4, the Cape Coral Fire Department will host its annual hurricane seminar from 6:30-8 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall. The event is free and open to the public; registration is not required.
Speakers include Jim Farrell, from WINK News; Lee County Emergency Management Director Jim Bjostad; U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary EOC liaison Tom Bamford; Capt. Mike Torregrossa, of the Cape Coral Police Department; Cape Coral Building Official Paul Dickson; and Jesse Spearo, emergency management coordinator with the Cape Coral Fire Department.
The Cape Coral Fire Department/Emergency Operations Center is at 1115 S.E. Ninth Ave.
The Cape Coral City Hall is at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.
The Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral is at 2051 E. Cape Coral Parkway.
For information, visit online at: www.capecoral.net.