While local law enforcement officers and first responders have a duty to answer calls for help, their lives can still be put in unnecessary danger.

When citizens within mandatory evacuation zones decide to ride out storms from home, not only do they jeopardize themselves, but also the first responders who don't have the option to take the day off.

"It's something we sign up for, but it shouldn't be something people take for granted," said Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson.

Adkinson said that when a natural disasters strikes, the men and women who are on call not only have to make sure their families are safe, but also look out for everyone else, even if that means hunkering down during a Category 4 hurricane.

"Everyone here that's south of the bay, they knew that they were not going home, that they were staying here and riding it out, and that meant that if the bridge gets washed out, dug in, or whatever, they're here," Adkinson said. "They can't leave to go check on their families because they're here to check on yours."

Richard Talbert, the fire chief of South Walton Fire District, said that he's been a part of the fire rescue service for around 40 years — responding to almost every natural disaster since — and that Hurricane Michael was "one for the books."

"I'm proud of our men and women here that serve our community and our visitors each and every day," Talbert said. "We're on the front line, and we're in the middle of helping out neighbors, and I feel like our guys go about it in a very quiet and humble way."

Immediately following a disaster, the fire district goes into "search and rescue mode," — which is coming to a close — and then transitions into a "recovery mode." This statewide program for regional response helps get the victims back on their feet.

"It's widely known as one of the best systems in the country, unfortunately because it's used a lot," Talbert said.

Currently, the response to the east is largely law enforcement — though fire rescue is still present — to ensure the safety to people whose lives have been changed forever.

"What actually becomes difficult is that sometimes people want to help so badly that they can become part of the problem if they're not careful," said Adkinson, who shared that the most efficient way to contribute to the hurricane relief is to make donations to creditable organizations like the American Red Cross — unless someone you know is directly involved and needs your help.

Taking a day trip see the damages firsthand or donate supplies individually can clutter the roads, making travel difficult for officers and first responders.

And, if a hurricane is headed toward your area and an evacuation is advised, Adkinson said to not rely on luck like those along 30A, who rode out the storm around 30 miles form devastation.

"You got lucky, and luck is the last dying hope of the unprepared," Adkinson said.

As of now, the worst is over and the areas to the east are moving toward recovery. Resources are coming in, law enforcement and fire rescue is on scene and their members are helping bring these areas back to life.

Talbert said urged residents to have a plan for how they will handle future hurricanes or other natural disasters.

"Heed the warnings, be proactive, think two steps past what (a disaster) may do, because once it's impacted you, it's a lot to process," he said. "Maybe you rode one out, but that doesn't mean you may successfully ride every one of them out. We've got some pretty sad results and stories coming from the east of us."