ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — During hurricane season it is critical for Florida residents to know their evacuation zone, what type of zone they live in and what their plan of action is if a hurricane or tropical storm forms.
The state's east coast has been spared from the brunt of a major hurricane for years, so law enforcement fears that will only make it harder to convince people to leave their homes before a big storm.
When storms approach South Florida and the Treasure Coast, first responders make the same plea, asking people to leave for their own safety.
In the past few years, our area has seen multiple storms threaten our coast: in 2016 it was Hurricane Matthew, in 2017 it was Hurricane Irma and in 2019 it was Hurricane Dorian.
But all of those storms ended up either skirting our coast or only giving the area a glancing blow. Storm surge and winds from outer bands still caused flooding and damage but nothing compared to the damage experts feared could happen with landfall.
Making people like Sherri Cramer are glad they just decided to ride out the storms instead of leaving their homes.
She lives on Nettles Island in St. Lucie County — a waterfront community often among the first to be told to evacuate.
One year she did leave for an approaching storm.
"I left once and went to Palm City and they lost power, so you know we had power, but they didn't, so then we couldn't get back over the bridge," Cramer said.
No storm is the same, which makes the decision a personal one.
"Would you say you have hurricane fatigue?" asked WPTV reporter Meghan McRoberts.
"I think we did last year," Cramer said. "It was so late in the season that we got hit."
"It's their home. They're not forced out of it," St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara. "They want to stay there, and we can't make them leave."
Mascara said overcoming numbness to hurricanes is a challenge for first responders.
Even when they tell residents that rescue crews can't guarantee they'd be able to reach them in an emergency.
"It's always a challenge to get the buy-in that they must leave," Mascara said.
The sheriff said they try to track areas where people are not evacuating to check those areas first after a storm blows over.
"If the storm is very severe, a Category 4 or 5, we recommend that they put the [name of their] next of kin somewhere on their body, in their pocket, or even magic marker on their arm," Mascara said.
WPTV chief meteorologist Steve Weagle said even when major hurricanes Frances and Jeanne hit the Treasure Coast in 2004, 10,000 to 15,000 people ignored evacuation orders during Hurricane Jeanne even with Frances hitting only three weeks prior.
With the west coast of Florida being hit by Hurricane Ian last year, Mascara hopes that will reverse some hurricane fatigue.
"We could probably use photos from that disaster to educate new residents here of what to expect in a Category 5 hurricane," Mascara said.
Cramer is now weighing what she's willing to ride out this season.
"Where do you decide when you're going to leave?" McRoberts asked.
"That's a good question," Cramer said. "It's definitely after a Category 3. I seriously think about it."