Do you stay or shelter in place?

That's often the biggest question when a hurricane potentially is heading your way.

Local emergency management directors advise people to have a plan as early as the beginning of hurricane season which is June 1.

"Don't wait until one or two days before the storm," Charlotte County Emergency Management Director Jerry Mallet said. "Know what you're going to do, if you have to evacuate or stay home. Don't wait until the storm is coming through."

Anyone who is under an evacuation order should definitely leave their homes, Mallet said. 

Those outside evacuation zones living in mobile homes, manufactured homes, recreation vehicles, boats or older homes unable to withstand hurricane-force winds also should evacuate, county officials said.

"In most cases homes built after 2002 and have hurricane shutters are relatively safe," Sarasota County Emergency Management Director Ed McCrane said. "It's not just the windows, the garage doors and front entry doors need to be hardened or protected by shutters."

Anyone who needs help getting to a special needs or regular evacuation center must register to be provided transportation. Check your county's emergency management website or more information.

Shelter in place

Area evacuation centers are limited, so be sure to have a backup plan.

Because Charlotte County has low elevation, the Red Cross will not open any shelters in the county. That means general population and special needs evacuation centers operated by county staff fill up quickly. Many people during Hurricane Irma sought shelter in Sarasota County which had more options.

"We want people to realize these evacuation centers are a last resort, just for the storm, and you need to bring your own supplies,"McCrane said.

Residents should note that the evacuation centers don't have blankets, pillows or hot meals like they might find in a Red Cross shelter.

McCrane recommends those wanting to stay in the area shelter with friends or family with newer houses built to withstand hurricane force winds.

Those riding out the storm at their own residences should make sure their homes are as secure as possible.

"They should have a safe room in the home in case things go bad," McCrane said. "You want to pick out a safe room like a closet or a bathroom, a bedroom with very few windows."

Leave the area

Those leaving town should make arrangements ahead of time and know where they are going. Gas up the car and bring plenty of cash.

Consider that evacuation routes can get clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic and gas can be difficult to find, especially if you wait until the last minute. 

Also note, hotels outside the projected path of the hurricane fill up quickly. 

"We learned a lesson from Irma," said Thomas Moran, Emergency Services Director for DeSoto County. "Leave early because gas stations run out of fuel. If you are going to evacuate, do it earlier than you would normally think to evacuate, that prevents getting stranded."

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