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Marco Island residents, city officials and first responders spent Friday preparing for Tropical Storm Erika, who may come calling early Monday.

City discussions included how the city will deal with power outages, if any, and how an outage would affect city traffic lights and the utility system.

The only question – what strength will the disorganized storm possess after crossing through mountainous islands south of the U.S. and over the Florida Straits.

"We are tracking the event, as are emergency personnel on both the east and west coasts of Florida," said Sgt. Nick Ojanovac, who supervises both the patrol and investigative divisions of the Marco Island Police Department. "We've advised our personnel to be on the ready should the situation require an 'all call,' which requires all personnel to report due to poor conditions.

Police and fire-rescue personnel urged Marco residents to sign up for the city's Code Red notification system, which will post alerts when issued. Go to the city's website, cityofmarcoisland.com, click on Code Red.

"We expect Collier County will activate their Emergency Operations Center on Saturday in the abundance of caution and we will have a representative there," said Ojanovac.

Right now being prepared for city government means ensuring all vehicles are fully fueled and equipment is properly positioned and ready. The city's emergency operations center is located in police headquarters in the City Hall complex.

Ojanovac encouraged residents to ensure that loose debris and items around their homes are secured. This would also include watercraft, whether on a lift or moored next to a dock, he said.

PUBLIC WORKS

Public construction sites safety and traffic signaling devices are a concern for Tim Pinter, the island's public works director.

"The biggest problem for us would lie in the loss of power. We therefore would preposition generators to feed those devices to insure traffic can still flow in a safe and efficient fashion," said Pinter. "We would also stand ready to remove debris from the roadways should that need arise."

UTILITY DEPARTMENT

Jeff Poteet, the director of the island's water and wastewater system, also is prepared to deal with power outages.

"Our lift stations for our wastewater system run off of electric power and we have standby generators ready to meet those needs should that necessity materialize," said Poteet.

"Our water plant also has back up power should we lose our utility lines, said Poteet. "We will also secure equipment and materials wherever they may be."

FIRE-RESCUE DEPARTMENT

As with their law enforcement colleagues, the men and women of the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department are making sure equipment is prepared for any requirement should the storm threaten the island. Fire-Rescue Chief Michael Murphy serves as the city's coordinator for emergency services.

"The city manager has held a staff meeting today to ensure our team is ready to activate our emergency response plan should the need arise," said Murphy.

City Manager Roger Hernstadt urged residents to have hurricane plans in place.

"As in events such as this we prepare for the worst and hope for the best," said Hernstadt. "The residents, however, can feel confident that the staff has a plan and is prepared to put it into actions should the need arise

"Residents should also have their own plan in place that includes staying abreast of the weather conditions the next couple of days, in addition to having adequate supplies should they be without power for a few days. Since Erika could strengthen, they should also heed any request for evacuation should that need arise," he said.

LOCALS COOL

In the eyes of a couple of Marco residents, concern over storms depends on just how long you've been here.

"The newcomers to the island are concerned that the locals are as cool as cucumbers," said long-time resident Dale Danek Downey. "What can we do? We will deal with the storm like we always do. After it's over we will clean it up. Stay calm and carry on."

Marianne Hayes Martin, who's lived on Marco since 1999, recalled experiencing the "bad summer" of 2004, with Fran and Charley at the helm, and then Wilma in 2005.

"I think we're just going to have a bad rain storm," Martin said, adding with a chuckle: "We're just making sure we have food and booze."

Martin said, however, if the storm became really serious, she would of course pay close attention and follow proper procedure. – Quentin Roux

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