- September 10, 2017
With a lot about Hurricane Irma's track an intensity still unknown, Longboat Key officials are instructing all residents to begin preparing for what could be the first major storm to hit the area in more than a decade.
“This is the time to prepare and get moving,” said Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi.
Town officials are encouraging all residents to sign up for Longboat Key CodeRED on the town’s web site, which provides updates on the storm and any subsequent preparations including bridge closings or evacuations. CodeRED alerts will be sent out through a resident's choice of email, text message or phone call.
Gov. Rick Scott called a state of emergency for all 67 Florida counties on Sept. 4, which allows emergency personnel to mobilize in anticipation of the storm. All Longboat government entities, including the town’s police and public works departments, began emergency procedures Sept. 5.
As the departments began fueling their vehicles, overstocking medical supplies and confirming contact information for emergency personnel, town officials are encouraging all citizens to begin their own plans. Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm as of Sept. 5, could make landfall in Florida by Sept. 10 according to projections. It would be the first major storm to strike the region since Hurricane Charley in 2004.
“We’ve been very lucky. People haven’t thought about it because the storms haven’t happened here,” Dezzi said. “We have to get off that thinking process and make sure that people get this is a very serious storm that we will need to make sure we watch.”
With the possibility of significant damage, Dezzi said residents need to be proactive. An evacuation order could come as early as Sept. 7, but it still too early to tell if this will be necessary.
“This storm is powerful and moving all over the place, so we’re not sure where it’s going to go,” Dezzi said. “What we do know is we will be impacted somehow.”
Sarasota and Manatee counties will work in conjunction to call an evacuation order if necessary, meaning there won’t be a situation where one side of the island evacuates and the other doesn’t. Shelter locations haven’t been announced yet, but both counties will provide facilities if necessary. Residents are reminded to look for shelter details, including if they allow pets.
Longboat officials have already begun reaching out to residents with special medical or transportation needs to prepare them in case of an evacuation. Longboat Fire and Rescue is working in collaboration with area medical facilities to make sure all have a destination in case of an evacuation.
Should the island require an evacuation, the Longboat Police Department will set up check points at both the north and south entrances of the island, and all people wishing to get through after the storm will need some sort of identification proving they own a property on Longboat. This can include, but is not limited to, a drivers license, an electric bill or other documentation that verifies an address.
If an evacuation is ordered, residents will not be allowed back on the island until the bridges and conditions on the island are deemed safe.
First responders are also preparing in case of significant damage to the island. Dezzi said that in addition to significant damage to housing on the island, emergency personnel are preparing for damages including downed powerlines, flooded streets and broken gas lines.
“It’s a huge process even for a small town like we have here,” Dezzi said.