The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season is upon us. Meteorologists at Colorado State University (CSU) predict the 2016 hurricane season will be the most active since 2012. Dr. Phil Klotzbach, CSU lead forecaster, expects to see 14 named storms, six hurricanes, and two major hurricanes this season.

This prediction is not lost on the people at Lee County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Fort Myers, Florida. Even though intense hurricanes are infrequent in Lee County, Fort Myers is rated near the top of the list of most dangerous hurricane cities by The Weather Channel. Storm surge is the reason for the dubious honor; the area is flat and near sea level. Adding to the storm surge potential is the relative shallowness of the Gulf of Mexico along the coast of Lee County.

“Should we have a storm event where we have 10, 12, 15, 18 feet of storm surge,” says Rob Farmer, director of public safety in Lee County, “we would probably end up evacuating around 500,000 people out of Lee County.”

SEE: Power checklist: Building your disaster recovery plan (Tech Pro Research)

Specifics about Lee County’s EOC facility

The highest spot in Lee County is just over 30 feet above sea level, and that is where the Lee County EOC is located. The 27,000 square-foot facility is a survivalist’s dream come true:

  • Designed as a bunker with reinforced concrete on all sides, the EOC can resist wind speeds of over 200 mph.
  • Backup systems (Figure A) are capable of self-sustained, full-load operation for seven days.

Figure A

Besides being able to withstand pretty much anything Mother Nature can offer, the facility, commissioned in 2013, includes cutting-edge networking, communications, and media infrastructure, all of which is dedicated to helping the emergency management team make accurate assessments/decisions and deliver critical information and services to Lee County residents during emergencies.

The EOC includes:

  • a data center capable of supplying the county’s digital needs;
  • redundant north/south single-mode fiber feeds with shielded-cable infrastructure;
  • a dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) switch capable of transmitting 10 Gigabits per second (Gb/s) on up to 40 channels, for a total potential of 400 Gb/s worth of bandwidth;
  • a separate secure telecom room housing all the EOC’s networking equipment; and
  • Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches providing connectivity and electricity to all PoE-capable equipment including the EOC’s computers, phones, speakers, and cameras.

During a declared emergency, Lee County operations move to a 4,200 square-foot situation room (Figure B), which the team uses for training exercises and meetings when not in hurricane season.

Figure B

The EOC is also Lee County ARES/RACES. As an amateur radio operator, I understand the vital role amateurs play during any emergency; their ingenuity keeps communications up when everything else fails, something Lee County Public Service is counting on.

Lee County partnered with The Siemon Company and Fort Myers-based Fiber Solutions to get all of the above systems installed, operational, and certified.

High-tech software for emergency management

With 1,212 square miles and approximately 619,000 citizens to protect, Lee County emergency management knew they needed help in getting the word out. “Lee County utilizes the CodeRED emergency notification system to alert and warn the public during emergency situations,” says Betsy Clayton, communications director for Lee County. “The system allows emergency management staff to send out messages via phone, text, or email, and can provide information on critical protective actions required to safeguard life and property.”

During an emergency, it is important to keep track of responders, resources, and information, and do so in near real time. To achieve that Lee County uses WebEOC. “Responders in the Emergency Operations Center and those working throughout Lee County can access the system to gain situation awareness and provide situation updates during the incident,” explains Clayton. “WebEOC provides a consistent user interface, clear communication, and information sharing between all those involved in a disaster response.”

Ready as can be

As one with many years of emergency preparedness experience, it is evident Lee County emergency management takes their job very seriously. The county’s state-of-the-art EOC and Public Safety Leadership Team’s attitude attest to that.