What happens if the worst happens?

August 4, 2017
By Marcy Shortuse

Every year, the first weather event of the hurricane season usually serves to spur many of us into setting our plan of action in case severe weather hits us, and this year is no exception. After Tropical Storm Emily formed almost right over us this week, there’s been an small influx of visitors to the Boca Grande Fire Department who are inquiring about hang tags, but not as many as one might think.
Do you know where your hurricane hang tag is? Do you even know what one is, or what they look like? The hang tag system was created by the Boca Grande Fire Department almost a decade ago, and was created to expedite the wait time of island residents and business owners who are trying to get back on to Gasparilla Island after a severe weather event. Each tag has zone numbers, 1 through 4, to show law enforcement officials what part of the island that tag is registered to. Blue tags are for residential use, orange tags are for business use. Yellow tags are also issued for official use.
If you have a hang tag that was issued after 2012, your tag is still valid. Hang tags that are older than 2012 are no longer valid and cannot be used.
What can you expect before, during and after a hurricane or other severe storm? Local officials at the Boca Grande Fire Department and Lee County Sheriff’s Office urge you to evacuate as soon as the word is given to do so, because barrier islands are no place to ride out a storm. Make sure all official documents are in one easily-accessible place in your home. Have a plan to take your pets with you, and have a pet-friendly shelter or hotel in mind prior to your departure. Make sure all medications for you and your pets are packed up, as well as a small bag of toiletries and clothing.
When the winds of a storm reach a sustained 45 miles per hour the Boca Grande Causeway Swing Bridge wlil lock down and be closed to boat traffic. When winds reach 55 miles per hour or higher sustained, bridge employees will begin to evacuate. Just prior to their departure they will raise all toll gates at the booth.
While motorists will be able to use the bridge heading on and off-island, it is not advisable to do so unless it is an extreme emergency. Your vehicle could be blown off the bridge.
When winds reach a sustained 55 miles per hour all emergency personnel will be locked down on the island, and they will not be responding to emergency calls of any kind until it is safe to do so. The fire department is NOT a shelter; you cannot stay there during a storm.
If for some reason you do stay on the island make sure you have an ample supply of batteries for flashlights and radios, bottled water (or fill a bathtub or bucket), non-perishable food, pet food if necessary, baby wipes, a first aid kit and all medications you and your pets might need.
Also, be prepared to cut yourself out of your home or driveway, so having a chain saw and other landscaping tools on hand would be useful.
If you evacuate and come back to the island when the weather passes, be prepared to see sheriff’s deputies blocking the toll booths; they will position themselves there as soon as the weather is safe enough to do so. Display your hang tag on your rearview mirror, and have your driver’s license in hand as backup. A copy of a utility bill or something else confirming your residence would be useful as well.
If you have stayed on the island during a storm, be especially careful of downed power lines when you leave the house. Power from a downed line can injure a person who is standing within 30 feet of the line.
If you have any questions regarding storm procedures for Gasparilla Island or about hang tags, call the Boca Grande Fire Department at 964-2908 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.