What can we learn from Hurricane Dorian?

OKEECHOBEE — Every time a big storm passes us by, we breathe a sigh of relief, and then we usually go back to living life as we always have. Maybe it’s time we begin thinking about what could have been and how we can make some small changes now while we are still able.

Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Cpl. Jack Nash of the Community Relations Department said he just made a trip to the Bahamas to deliver supplies, and he saw firsthand the devastation Hurricane Dorian brought to the people who live there. He said he believes if that storm had hit Okeechobee and sat over top of us for the same length of time, with the type of residences we have here, it would have been catastrophic on a scale we have never seen before here in Okeechobee. We thought it was bad the year (2004) we had those three storms, he said, but compared with having this storm stay on top of us for a day and a half with those sustained winds, that would have been nothing.

“I think we should all learn from this,” Cpl. Nash said. “Everyone was scrambling, and some people never did get ready by the time they said it wasn’t coming.” We all know hurricanes are unpredictable. There have been hurricanes in the past that have gone out and turned around only to come right back in.

“It’s far better to be prepared, and I think that is what we all can learn from this,” he said.

We should keep our gas cans filled and in the garage, using them as we can but keeping them filled. Keep water and canned goods in stock. Buy a little at a time of the things you like, and keep a stockpile for emergencies, rotating your stock so the supplies don’t go out of date. “As Floridians, we have to understand that we have to be storm-ready,” he said. If you need help, reach out. Have an evacuation plan in place. It’s hard to think about that, but, he said, if you live in a trailer, even some of the new ones with the hurricane ratings, you need to leave if that type of storm is coming toward us. He has a wood-frame house, and his family will not be staying there during a storm of that strength. He saw some complete devastation of homes in the Bahamas he would have thought could handle a hurricane.

One of the things Cpl. Nash finds the most frightening is that many people don’t have updated roofs, he said. That’s where the problems will be. You can have a concrete block construction home, but if your roof is not up to date, and the panels on the gables are not reinforced, they are going to collapse in. “It’s that simple: You lose your roof, you lose your house,” he said. He also said it is not a good idea to leave spaces between shutters. “If you want to see the storm, go buy a clear shutter right now.”

Now is the time to buy plywood for your home, he said. There is not a huge demand right now.

“What you found was lacking during the storm, what was in short supply at all the stores before the storm, those are the things you should be buying now,” Cpl. Nash pointed out. “We tend to live within our comfort zone, and when things like this happen, we panic, because we aren’t prepared.”

Anytime there is a voluntary or mandatory evacuation, the sheriff’s office keeps a log of the people who evacuate so they can keep a close watch on the empty homes. If you evacuate voluntarily, and you would like this service, you need to call the sheriff’s office and let them know. They send someone around to check these homes every day at different times of the day, so there is no pattern to it. Sometimes it might be a marked patrol car and sometimes an unmarked car, he said. It might be a regular patrol or a COP or a special unit, but someone will check on each home until you return.

During Dorian, there were no burglaries reported, because not only did the sheriff’s office and police department patrol, but neighbors kept an eye on each other’s property. Everyone in this county was extremely helpful and vigilant, he said. There seemed to be a lot of good communication between neighbors, and that always helps.

He said one very important thing to remember is to stop putting your business on social media. When you post or tweet that you are evacuating or going on vacation, it is like putting a sign on your front lawn telling the burglars to come on in. Tell your close friends and neighbors in person, on the phone or by text and ask them to keep an eye out for any strangers around your home.

Make sure you always have preparation for your animals if it looks like a storm is coming our way. Don’t forget to make preparations to have a supply of your medications. Make a list now of things you think you need. The National Hurricane Center and our Emergency Operations Center have lists online of things you might want to consider having ready in the event of a storm. If you have any questions, you can always call Cpl. Nash at the sheriff’s office. He said he is always willing to answer questions and help in any way he can. If he doesn’t know the answer, he will do his best to find it for you.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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