By Jane Bartnett
September signals the height of the hurricane season. “Now is the time to plan ahead and to be aware of weather conditions,” advises Sarasota County’s Chief of Emergency Management Ed McCrane.
The last time that Siesta Key faced mandatory evacuation orders was in 2017, when Hurricane Irma arrived. Residents were given 36 hours to evacuate. When the storm veered to the east, Siesta Key was spared. Only minimal damage from the storm surge damage was left behind. As we move into the fall months, McCrane urges all Siesta Key residents, visitors and business owners to “use this time to plan and to have sufficient supplies for themselves and their pets for a week to 10 days.”
The federal agency NOAA has predicted that the 2020 season will be “one of the most active seasonal forecasts that they have produced in their 22-year history of hurricane outlooks,” according to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The agency has also increased their forecast for the development of a La Nina weather system, indicating that conditions will be more favorable for the development of Atlantic Ocean storms and an increase in Caribbean Sea disturbances. In less active years, there are usually 10-12 storms during the hurricane season that begins on June 30 and ends on November 30. For the 2020 season, NOAA has called for a total of 19-20 storms.
Planning ahead, experts say is especially important this year. “Keep COVID-19 in mind when revising or making your plan for you and your loved ones, and don’t forget your pets,” said FEMA’s acting deputy administrator Carlos Castillo. FEMA’s free mobile app provides updates on weather, nearby shelters and other emergency information at www.fema.gov. The National Hurricane Center’s website: www.hurricanes.gov also carries current hurricane watch and warning information.
According to Sarasota County, homes built under the 2002 Florida Building Code that are equipped with storm shutters had less damage after a storm and “may be safe to stay in as long as they are not in an evacuation area.” However, “homes built between 1994 and 2001 under the Standard Building Code sustained more damage and homes built before 1994 fared even worse.”
Sarasota County recommends that Siesta Key residents who decide to shelter in place should prepare their home by:
- Cleaning the bathtub or other large containers and fill them with water
- Stocking up on drinking water. Allow for one gallon per person, per day, for a week to 10 days.
- Having a supply of canned food and a can opener.
- Having necessary paper items.
- Ensuring that you have sufficient foods and supplies for babies and children.
- Checking your supplies of medications, prescriptions and have a first aid kit.
- Battery-operated television or radio, flashlight and extra batteries.
- Cash (ATMs may be out-of-service).
- Stocking up on pet supplies, including pet food, and a crate for your pet if you have to go to a shelter
- Making photocopies of important documents (birth certificate, license and insurance).
- Keeping a full tank of gasoline in your car.
Also, locate the water shut-off valve for your residence and if you have a pool, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for turning off your pool and/or water heater and unplug them, and switch off the circuit breaker.
If you make the decision to leave the area, experts advise that you don’t wait until the last minute. Coastal roads such as Midnight Pass Road and Ocean Boulevard may be underwater. Should officials call for mandatory evacuations, Sarasota County EMS states that “you will be without fire rescue, law enforcement or emergency medical support until winds and waters subside.”
Sarasota County maintains 11 evacuation centers. All are pet-friendly but residents arriving at shelters with their pets must bring a crate to hold that animal in the shelter. Only domestic dogs and cats are permitted.
Sarasota County’s 11 Evacuation Centers Are:
- Fruitville Elementary School, 601 N. Honore Ave., Sarasota
- Brookside Middle School, 3636 S. Shade Ave., Sarasota
- Southside Elementary School, 1901 Webber St., Sarasota
- Riverview High School, 3636 S. Shade Ave., Sarasota
- Booker High School, 3201 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota
- Phillippi Shores Elementary, 4747 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
- Gulf Gate Elementary School, 6500 S. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota
- North Port High School, 6400 W. Price Blvd., North Port
- Heron Creek Middle School, 6501 W. Price Blvd., North Port
- Woodland Middle School, 2700 Panacea Blvd., North Port
- Atwater Elementary School, 4701 Huntsville Ave., North Port
If a hurricane watch is issued, all Sarasota County evacuation centers will open at the same time. Officials warn that the centers are “not hotels and will not be able to provide any conveniences or luxuries. You will have no privacy, limited space approximately 20 square feet per person in a public classroom or hallway, and meal service may be delayed. Evacuation centers cannot provide bedding, cots or blankets.” Masks will be required. A full list of recommended items can be found along with other important information for Sarasota County at www.scgov.net/government/hurricanepreparedness