How did Lee County do before, during and after Ian? County releases self-evaluation

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Lee County posted a 28-page report Monday afternoon that looks at its preparations, planning and response to Hurricane Ian. The county evaluated what went right, what could have gone better and how can it improve next time.

The storm made landfall in Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022, bringing 15 feet of storm surge, 150 mph winds and causing billions of dollars in damage. The Florida District Medical Examiner attributes 144 deaths to the storm, with 72 occurring in Lee County.

Observations in the report include that communications and interagency coordination worked. It evaluated communication with the community, including the use of social media to get out vital messages. However, they will also look at new technology in the future to improve and maintain connectivity in the field.

Also noted in the report, Observation 2 stated, “Amid an uncertain forecast leading up to landfall, County leadership leveraged pre-existing plans to guide critical pre-storm decision-making, issue evacuation orders and open shelters.”

It goes on to point out, “Between the evening of Monday, September 26, and the morning of Tuesday, September 27, Hurricane Ian was tracking more toward the (Lee) County with an anticipated landfall of Wednesday, September 28, prompting evacuation orders on the morning of Tuesday, September 27. While the short timeframe between the evacuation orders and landfall was scrutinized, the timing of the evacuation orders aligned with the County’s pre-existing plans.”

WINK News Investigative Reporter Peter Fleischer repeatedly tried to discuss the timeline of when county leaders made the call to evacuate and why it wasn’t made sooner.

In Fleischer’s report, now retired Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais admitted, “Initially, we believed the storm surge was going to have more of an effect on the uninhabited areas of the Zone A. That’s why we were a little slower to pull that trigger than we might have otherwise.”

And Commissioner Ray Sandelli pointed to the number of factors involved: “Could we have done it differently? Maybe. But I guess you’re dealing with these variables.”

It is standard for agencies to evaluate their actions post-storm and then use those experiences to grow and improve for the next event. If you’d like to read the full After-Action report for yourself, click here.

The report is scheduled to be discussed at the Lee County Commission meeting on Tuesday. The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m.

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