LEE COUNTY, Fla. - When evacuations are ordered it's best to leave right away. While more eyes are on the road than ever before to help you make it out safely, only you can assure that you make it out on time.
"One of the great advantages of this building is that it has placed our Florida DOT traffic operators in the very same room as FHP dispatchers and staff so that we have enhanced communication," explained Communications Director for Florida Department of Transportation Debbie Tower.
The building Debbie Tower was talking about is the Southwest Interagency Facility for Transportation, or SWIFT SunGuide Center. In the 49,000 square foot facility you'll see one giant wall of monitors and two times the eyes, all focused on one goal: keeping you safe while driving.
Tools like highway cameras and real time information boards that line I-75 give drivers instant feedback on everything from slow traffic, to crashes. But Tower says that's not enough to keep traffic moving smoothly during an evacuation.
"Human nature might say we've got plenty of time," she said. "... You have as much time as you allow and you need to allow twice as much time, maybe three times as much time [during an evacuation]."
"Obey the evacuations. We're not just putting them out there just to throw them out there," reiterated Florida Highway Patrol Lieutenant Gregory Bueno.
Lt. Bueno says have a plan now so you can hit the road as soon as you're told.
"We're going to be doing everything we can to assist you, to get across safely and efficiently, however we need every person, every motorist to do their part as well," he said.
Part of that plan includes mapping out different evacuations routes for you and your family, and stocking up on water and food for the car. You will likely be sitting in traffic. Also, be patient. Don't drive recklessly and create a hazard on the road.
"It would go much smoother if everybody approached it with sharing the roadways and playing by the rules, leaving early and expecting delays and having a game plan," said Bueno.
And don't expect the state to step in to alleviate traffic by one-waying, or "reverse-laning" the highway. It only happens in extreme cases.
"That is something that is going to take a massive amount of manhours, a massive amount of equipment, a massive amount of troopers. We are prepared to do it, but it is going to take time to enact and we will do so immediately upon the governor's decision," Lt. Bueno said.
Also before storm season, the Florida Highway Patrol is urging everyone to sign up for its "Emergency Contact Information" database. In the event anything happens to you, law enforcement can use your driver's license to look up your emergency contacts and notify them immediately.
For more information on the ECI program, click on this link.