By Rich Collins
Just over eight months ago, Hurricane Ian left an impact on the entire southwest coast of Florida. Sarasota County was not spared, as many of our residents, especially in the southern parts of the county, felt the effects of winds above 100 mph and flooding equal to a 1,000-year event.
To date, more than 3.3 million cubic yards of debris has been collected, damages are higher than $200 million, and many are still repairing their homes. Recovery continues. However, many of our residents’ lives have been changed forever from Ian.
It is hard to believe, but it could have been much worse, as we look toward Lee County and see the results of extensive and catastrophic storm surge. If Ian’s storm track had shifted just 20 miles, the Sarasota County coast would have been impacted by catastrophic storm surge. Ian underscores the danger of storm surge and emphasizes the importance of being prepared for hurricane season.
Act now. Preparedness is key!
Planning isn’t just essential, it’s a life-saving measure that you need to take for yourself and your family. Sarasota County’s website — scgov.net — offers extensive information on what you need to do to get ready for hurricane season. Visit our hurricane preparedness page, where you can find information on preparations for your family, home, neighborhood and business; public service announcement videos; and a digital version of the Disaster Planning Guide.
Storm surge can extend well inshore. Knowing the evacuation level your home is in, and where you will go should you need to leave in the event of a storm, prepares you to take action when necessary. If possible, stay with family or friends who live outside the evacuation level.
Announcing evacuations is a safety measure that the county takes very seriously. It means there is a real threat to specific areas. Don’t wait. Enact your evacuation plan, and leave. Waiting until the storm conditions deteriorate may prevent you from leaving. Also, after winds reach 45 mph, first responders will not be able to get to you.
Sarasota County coordinates with the Sarasota County School District to open and operate hurricane evacuation centers. These evacuation centers will be located within schools and will be announced through the news media, the county website and county social media platforms, as well as via text alerts. Sign up for emergency alerts at AlertSarasotaCounty.com.
Evacuation centers are a refuge of last resort. Staying with family or friends away from the evacuation area in a properly prepared and sheltered home is a much better option.
Knowing if your home is a safe place to shelter is an action you can take now. Is your home outside evacuation levels/areas? Was your home built after 2002? Do you have appropriate window and door coverings? If so, you may be able to shelter at home. If you are not sure and want to find out more about the safety of your home, visit the hurricane preparedness page for more information.
Taking action now also means having a well-stocked emergency supply kit before the start of hurricane season. Ensure you are prepared for a potential extended loss of power, and include any supplies you need for at least seven days. Once you make sure you have all of the basic supplies, such as water and non-perishable food, you should also consider medications and any unique needs your family might have. Gather important paperwork and emergency contacts and keep them in a safe place or have electronic copies. Do you need supplies for infants, pets or seniors, for examples?
If your plan requires going to an evacuation center, plan to bring your disaster supplies, including bedding and comfort items. Pets are allowed at all evacuation centers but must be current on all vaccinations. Owners are responsible for bringing the appropriate crates, leashes and supplies.
For those who are medically dependent or who are not comfortable driving to an evacuation center, information on the Transportation Dependent Plan and applying to the Medical Needs Program is available on scgov.net or by calling 311.
Being prepared to take action during hurricane season also means maintaining awareness of tropical weather as it develops. Sarasota County, through Emergency Management and all county partners — including our municipalities — will keep residents informed as storms approach by issuing emergency alerts, posting on social media, providing details on our website and by partnering with local radio and television media.
After a storm leaves our area, teams of county workers from the Utilities, Public Works, and Fire/EMS departments, as well as law enforcement agencies and many others, will be assessing damage, responding to calls, and taking action to help our community. Listen to media outlets for safety messages. It may not be safe to travel, or it may require a higher level of attention to damage when traveling through the community.
If it’s not safe to leave, stay at home and let those teams clear the roads. Keep listening for information on recovery and neighborhood points of distribution for supplies, if needed.
We hope this hurricane season will not be as busy as the 2022 season was. Yet, while that would be great, I also know that if a hurricane is heading for our coast and area, we will take action to prepare and respond in support of our community. You can help by taking action now to prepare yourself and your family for hurricane season. Being prepared is the best way to ensure your family is ready for any disaster, so when we take action, you can, too!
(Rich Collins is director of the Sarasota County Emergency Services Department.)