Questions persist following Hurricane Ian After-Action Report

Reporter: Peter Fleischer
Published: Updated:

When Hurricane Ian made landfall, Lee County bore the brunt of the storm. The medical examiner’s office says more than 70 people died across the county as a result. In the aftermath, Lee County searched for answers, paying for an after-action report to find out what worked and what didn’t.

Lee County Commission Chairman Brian Hamman admits the tragedy of Hurricane Ian still lingers one year later.

“Obviously, we are taking this to heart,” Hamman says. “Everyone wants to do everything we can to make sure we don’t see a storm like this again. The truth is, we’re going to.”

But, how is Lee County going to navigate future storms?

The after-action report gives an assessment of the county’s actions, first highlighting the good.

The report praises the way separate agencies communicated before, during, and after the storm. It also notes how the county took lessons learned from Hurricane Irma in 2017. County personnel knew their roles and moved quickly once the storm hit.

“The plan that we had in place really worked well,” Hamman claims. “The departments all communicated well with each other and did everything they could to make sure residents of Lee County had the best chance to protect themselves as this storm bared down on us.”

But, the report also admits the county can be more transparent with the public, peeling back the curtain into how and when they make major safety decisions.

“It’s one of the things that we’re evaluating and looking at,” Lee County Public Safety Director Ben Abes explains. “It’s something from the behavior of the community, how we message that in the days leading up to a potential evacuation is important. That’s something we’re going to take into consideration.”

County personnel came under fire in 2022 for how they announced mandatory evacuations. A WINK News exclusive revealed the county approved an evacuation order 12 hours before it was actually announced.

One month after the storm, Grace Nolan spoke with investigative reporter Peter Fleischer about her cousin Becky Bodner. Bodner and her husband were killed when Ian devastated Fort Myers Beach.

“I feel they were greatly failed,” Nolan admitted about a month after the storm hit. She felt more transparency from the county could have saved her cousin’s life.

“They could have gotten all of those people out, even if they went door to door,” Nolan sadly reflected. “It’s just beyond belief.”

“That communication back and forth is something that we identified in this report that can be improved in the future,” Hamman agrees. “And what we’re going to do is create positions and protocols to make sure that communication takes place.”

Hamman’s commitment to creating new positions sounds reassuring. But WINK News has asked Lee County staff several times for specifics into what positions will be added and how they will help keep residents safe. County officials have not responded to our questions.

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.