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Prepare for 2021 hurricane season now, not later

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

Now that we’re on the verge of the first storm of the season in the Gulf, it serves as a reminder you can never prepare too far in advance for the next big storm.

Leaders from Lee County and all across the state are warning Floridians to prepare for hurricane season Friday.

First responders say it’s more important than ever to listen to evacuation warnings because we just got out of the worst of the pandemic.

It might not feel like it anymore, but first responders told us they can’t stop thinking about COVID-19. That means shelters will prioritize those who can’t leave the area, so people need to prepare.

When it comes to storms, Shane Sibert, the program manager of FEMA’s Urban Search & Rescue Task Force in Southwest Florida, will tell you it’s survival — not of the fittest — but of the most prepared.

“We don’t want to have to come back later when something unfortunate may have happened,” Sibert said. “Hopefully, we want to try to avoid that, prevent that from happening at all costs.”

Sibert knows what not being ready looks like.

“People stuck in their house,” Sibert said. “They weren’t trapped. They just couldn’t get out. They were fine. They had food, but they were running out of food. So we were able to go cut them out with chainsaws. Trees were all over the place.”

A system in the gulf Friday is expected to strengthen into a storm. That means hurricane season starts now.

David Cook, who was in Southwest Florida for Hurricane Irma, can give you a tip or two.

Irma was our learning lesson,” Cook said. “We just back up water. We have a generator ready, started to get it going. We have our candles, our flashlights, low batteries.”

Cook encourages neighborly behavior during hurricane prep.

“Help each other out,” Cook said. “Because everybody needs help at times. There’s no stop lights. There’s no gas. There’s no electricity. You don’t hear anything but just silence.”

Glen VanBrunt, the district division chief of training for San Carlos Park Fire Protection and Rescue Service, says it’s important to be prepared for possibilities of evacuation.

“When they put out the warning to evacuate, don’t wait till the last minute,” VanBrunt said. “Have your plan. Have your go box and evacuate.”

It’s something he and his family also practice.

“We have a, prior to the season, we got to go box together all of our important paperwork all the food everything we need,” VanBrunt said. “We have a plan in place that if the storms coming this way, my wife’s loading up the dogs, and she’s leaving the state.”

Sibert told us, because of the pandemic, he’s prepared to bring in more equipment, more makeshift shelters to spread people out, and he’ll be asking people if they have been vaccinated for the coronavirus.

Anyone who has live here long-term or is new to the state should understand flood zones and pay attention to notifications.

“But the problem is we get lax,” Sibert said. “Muscle memory, overtime, people forget. So we’re just trying to get that out to remind people.”