SARASOTA COUNTY -- One year ago Thursday, Hurricane Ian slammed into Southwest Florida, making landfalls near Fort Myers and in Charlotte County.
Local emergency managers are relating the lessons they learned and the struggles still ongoing, as well as plans for future storms.
Sarasota County emergency services director Rich Collins says it wasn't just wind. Ian was a "thousand-year rain event" in south county, dropping 22 inches of rain in a day and forcing officials to shut down I-75 for 24 hours. Water management factors into future plans by his agency and by the city of North Port. He says the state helped out a lot, persuading FEMA to pick up the bill for debris pickup. Ian generated three million cubic yards of debris but the county had more than 90 percent of it picked up by the end of 2022.
Collins and North Port emergency manager Stacy Aloisio say much of south county is still dotted with blue tarps and other signs of Ian's destruction. According to Collins, 152 Sarasota County households are still using temporary housing because of Ian. That could be a trailer, rental home, or a residence outside the area. Aloisio says city government buildings, including the North Port police station, still have missing shingles and temporary repairs that need to be made permanent.
Collins and Aloisio are pushing projects to mitigate the impact of future hurricanes. One big concern is the effects of flooding. Aloisio says the city wants to fix or replace some water control structures. Aloisio's office is writing a "threat hazard identification risk assessment plan" that will involve a heavy flooding scenario. The city is also working on hiring a deputy emergency manager to work alongside Aloisio. One aspect of North Port's experience with Ian will get factored into the city's future plans. Aloisio says the city was surprised by the numbers of recreational boaters who rapidly responded to aid in search and rescue operations.
Collins says the county applied lessons it learned from Hurricane Irma five years earlier, and continues to apply its experience this year with Hurricane Idalia. Those including removing barriers to quick evacuation, such as terms like "mandatory" and "voluntary" evacuations that trigger uncertainty.
Aloisio just became North Port's emergency manager last month. But she earned her stripes working in Lee County's emergency management office during Ian. Aloisio says she learned a lot from people who came in from all over the country to help hard-hit Fort Myers and barrier islands. Aloisio says one important lesson is how much charities and faith-based organizations can offer during recovery. "United Way, Salvation Army, really tapping into those organizations, they have some amazing capabilities from home repair to mental health to spiritual care to financial assistance."
Aloisio says the big buzzword post-Ian is resiliency. "Building a more resilient community means that we can recover faster. Events like this won't affect us as much as they used to."
Going through Ian may not have convinced south Sarasota County residents of the need to evacuate. Aloisio says evacuations during Hurricane Idalia last month were "hit and miss."
Collins says of Sarasota County residents, "I do think we have a more resilient community, and a more educated community, which is absolutely awesome when we ask them to take action."
Listen to interviews with Rich Collins and Stacy Aloisio below:
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