The Atlantic hurricane season wrapped up on Nov. 30, proving to be a relatively quiet one for Southwest Florida.
Still, emergency management officials said this season provided good practice for future tropical events.
Florida was not directly hit by a hurricane this year, unlike the past three years.
Hurricane Dorian was the season’s strongest storm. Counties throughout Florida, including Charlotte and Sarasota got ready for it, but the storm turned north before making landfall and left much of the Bahamas in ruins.
In Sarasota County, Emergency Management Director Ed McCrane also said Dorian provided a way to test out the changes the county put in place after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Those changes included an electronic list of people with medical needs, rather than paper documents, staffing plans to open 11 shelters simultaneously, and a new transportation plan for those without vehicles.
“Everything we put in place was ready to go, but we did not have to completely utilize everything, so that was good,” McCrane said.
Both Charlotte and Sarasota counties had other test runs activating their emergency operations centers, but Dorian was the only actual event they prepared for during the 2019 hurricane season.
In Sarasota County, McCrane said the county realized during Dorian preparations, it needed a better system to get information out to all county employees and partners.
“We provide updates to all the county staff and all of our partners throughout the season,” he said. “When something is threatening, we call it a flash report. Once we activate the EOC, we do situation reports with more details.”
When the county switched to situation reports, the information stopped going to all employees. That’s something the county is fixing, creating a new document that will continue to update all employees.
“What Dorian turned out to be was a very good practice for us,” said Charlotte County Emergency Management Director Patrick Fuller. “It let us go through the motions, and it’s always a good reminder that every season, there’s a possibility of something impacting Charlotte County, and we want to be prepared to put our county in the best position possible.”
In Charlotte County, Fuller said the big takeaway from Dorian was that storms on the East Coast can still impact the gulf side.
“It’s nothing we didn’t already know, but even a storm likely to impact the East Coast will bring impacts here if it’s large enough,” he said.
Now, both counties are looking ahead to next year and continuing to stay prepared for other types of emergencies.
Fuller said there could always be a strong wildfire season, other types of severe weather, or spills of hazardous materials on the roadways.
“I would like people to really focus on instilling the mindset that we should have a culture of preparedness,” he said. “Living in paradise, there’s always the possibility of hazards.”
McCrane said his department just updated its comprehensive emergency management plan, and in the spring, they’ll be doing another full-scale hurricane exercise.
He encouraged the public to use the off-season to replenish their hurricane supplies to be ready for any disaster.
“This is a good time of year to give some of those supplies to food banks, maybe donate them and restock,” he said. “Rotate their water, check their batteries. ... We could get severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, flooding. We need to be prepared for those. Always have a disaster kit ready and always stay informed.”
In Sarasota County, the public can sign up for CodeRED notifications at https://www.scgov.net/government/public-utilities-water/customer-services/codered-notification-system.