On Sept. 28, Hurricane Ian made landfall just south of Sarasota County as a strong
Category 4 storm.
It was barely two weeks to the day that Hurricane Irma slammed into the area five years before, and when recovery teams began assessing the damage, emergency management officials realized the impact from Ian would dwarf that caused by Irma.
More than 80% of homes in Sarasota County lost power. The storm also caused catastrophic flooding for residents in North Port, Englewood and along the Myakka River, covering the historic Snook Haven Park in Venice and severely damaging the park’s iconic restaurant. Structural damage occurred to multiple county facilities, including lift stations, schools, libraries and parks.
Despite the impact, by Oct. 3, Sarasota County Government administrative offices were back in business. Within 10 days, Sarasota County’s public transit returned to normal service. Within 12 days, 99% of county power was restored and 97% of traffic signals were operational. Over the course of four weeks, Public Works staff replaced nearly 900 stop signs.
By Oct. 10, most county libraries had
reopened, and all schools by Oct. 18.
Nearly 40 of the county’s parks reopened
within five days after the storm. Turtle
Beach Campground reopened Oct. 11,
and 133 parks, 75% of athletic fields and
The Legacy Trail were open by Oct. 26.
Permitting was expedited for certain storm-related repairs or replacements, and disaster recovery centers opened in the county. Within days, six neighborhood points of distribution provided 49,111 cases of water, 34,821 bags of ice, 41,515 cases of ready-to-eat meals and 15,600 tarps to area residents.
The total vegetative storm debris collected in the four months after Hurricane Irma
was some 300,000 cubic yards. The total for Hurricane Ian surpassed that in just eight days. It took less than 20 days for
Sarasota County Solid Waste contractors to collect over 1 million cubic yards of vegetative storm debris from Hurricane
Ian — enough to fill more than 322 Olympic-sized swimming pools — and in December the total reached
3 million cubic yards. Crews continue to remove debris from properties throughout the county.
Regional Support Systems
In the days and weeks following Hurricane Ian, the county didn’t care just for Sarasota County residents, it also helped care for its neighbors.
When the city of North Port lost power, the Sarasota County Communications Department assumed control of the city’s website and posted to county social media accounts on its behalf, helping to ensure the flow of local information to city residents. Sarasota County 311 took on the city’s call volume while its contact center was out of service.
Members of the county’s Fire Department Hazardous Materials team assisted local agencies near Fort Myers Beach, searching areas that were heavily impacted to identify potentially hazardous materials and help mitigate issues. They also took time to help residents clear debris. An ambulance strike team provided additional emergency medical response to 911 calls.
Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane deployed to Lee County as Deputy Incident Commander. A public information officer traveled there to support Lee County’s communications team.
Sarasota County Utilities supported the Englewood Water District by providing the district with approximately 1.5 million gallons per day of potable water until its system was restored. Utilities provided a generator to Manatee County to support its well field.
Getting the Word Out
Before, during and after a storm as powerful
as Hurricane Ian, the ability of local
government to share information becomes
one of a community’s strongest lifelines.
In addition to traditional media, Sarasota County’s Communications Department provided daily call-in reports to local radio stations that service hard-hit areas like Englewood and North Port, and pushed text
safety alerts to areas without internet through newer social media like Ring’s Neighbors app.
Between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2:
Sarasota County 311 processed nearly 13,000 calls on everything from storm preparation to evacuation centers and where to find food, water and financial assistance.
The county’s Facebook page reached 1.4 million people; Sarasota County tweets were seen 1.3 million times.
Videos focusing on the storm and its recovery were viewed for almost 2,500 hours. Click here to view the entire video collection.
The county’s website (scgov.net) received over 480,000 visits.
9,643 people subscribed to the county’s emergency update newsletter.
Public information officers handled more than 150 local, regional and national media engagements through Sarasota County’s Joint Information Center, housed at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. Thirty members of the media were onsite, and one-third of them rode out the storm there.