FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Questions about the timing of evacuations in southwest Florida are still being debated after Hurricane Ian devastated the region last week.
When and how to evacuate are decisions that usually rest with county emergency officials.
Every county has a playbook for evacuations that includes when to initiate the order.
Along the coast, much of the decision has to do with storm surge.
For example, in St Lucie County there are designated areas, like flood zones, that would be first to get an evacuation order.
Ron Guerrero, the director of St. Lucie County Emergency Management, said decisions like this are not easy, especially when storms can change direction. However, the goal is to make a decision early enough to allow people to leave.
"Just as we experienced with Ian, things could shift overnight in 12 hours, in 6 hours, so we as emergency managers have to err on the side of caution again based on the data from our partners at the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center,” Guerrero said. "Based on that, we do our best to err on the side of caution."
Many factors go into the decision, such as in St Lucie County where two main bridges connect the beach to the mainland and access to Interstate 95 and Florida’s Turnpike.
One of the important decisions they have to make is giving people enough time to get away from the coast.
"It all depends on the type of storm we're getting. We look at it starting at 48 hours and based again on storm surge warnings and watches, but we will make our decision between 36 hours, no later than 24," Guerrero said.
"I can tell you, here in Palm Beach County, we have that data," Mary Blakeney, the director of Palm Beach County Emergency Management. "We've identified evacuation zones based on how Palm Beach County could be impacted by storm surge, and then we time that out based on how long it would take individuals to leave that impacted area and relocate safely."
Officials said it's vital that everyone have their own plan in place, so when the evacuations call comes, there is no hesitation about wondering about where to go.