Lessons Northwest Florida residents learned from Irma

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Northwest Florida had minor impacts from Hurricane Irma compared to much of the rest of the state.

"Irma was sort of a good dress rehearsal for a storm if it comes in." Luckily, this one didn't do a whole lot, but next time I'll be a lot better at it," Panama City Beach Resident Ray Kistler explained.

He didn't take any chances though. Kistler put shutters on his home and also helped several of his neighbors. Tuesday, he took them down.

"I was not going put them up until that storm took a little jog to the west. With the encouragement of my wife, we decided to put them up."

Kistler said the biggest lesson he learned is to make sure you're not missing any nuts or bolts for the shutters before you're in a storms path. He also recommended checking to make sure none of the parts are rusted.

"For people who haven't put their storm shutters up, do it sometime when it's not about to storm."

Kistler also took other precautions around his home.

"We took all the furniture off the patio and took the grill inside. We strapped our utility shed in the back down with some rope so it wouldn't fly away," Kistler said. "Anything outside that could be a hurling projectile we put that inside so it wouldn't bang up against our house or anybody else's."

"Hopefully this has been a wake up call," Bay County Chief of Emergency Services Mark Bowen said.

He stresses early preparation.

"They need to be prepared, and the people who are prepared don't have to worry about fuel running out because they keep their tanks at three quarters of a tank all through hurricane season," Bowen explained. "For a lot of people maybe they just didn't you know prepare in May, which is when everybody should really get ready for hurricane season."

Along with staying stocked up with the basic essentials, part of your hurricane plan should include knowing if you're in an evacuation zone.

"We do evacuate based on where we think is going to get surge inundation and that was one reason we didn't call for any evacuations with this storm," Bowen said.

Chief Bowen also said make sure you don't get complacent between now and whenever the next storm threatens us.

Bowen recommended signing up for Alert Bay, or the equivalent for your county, so you can get accurate storm information where you live. Bowen said nearly 10,000 people signed up for Alert Bay during Irma. He encourages more people to do the same. We attached links to register in this article.

There are only helpful links on the Tropics section of our website, the Florida Division of Emergency Management's website. Those links are also included.