First, if the officials say it’s time to go, believe them; the decision is never made lightly. And tune in to the media frequently for not only the latest storm track, but also important notifications from local agencies.
Rest assured: the Keys have a very detailed and practiced plan in place. All of the Keys agencies and government offices work together including the Navy, Coast Guard, hospitals, county health department, public works departments, utilities companies, schools and even volunteer charitable organizations. All of the decisions are made locally with heavy input from the National Weather Service office in Key West.
For years, Monroe County had a very simple evacuation plan based on hours to landfall, phases and zones.
“The coronavirus has not changed evacuation protocols,” said Emergency Management Director Shannon Weiner. “Generally, we call for the evacuation of visitors and special needs populations first.”
There are some scenarios — like a rapidly intensifying hurricane — where county officials might not distinguish between population groups or zones of the Keys. For example, if a small storm has a potential for escalation, evacuations might be called more urgently.
In the event of a Category 3 to 5 storm, or if officials expect it will strengthen to that level, evacuation for everyone is mandatory. County shelters are only open for a Category 1 or 2 storm. (See page 22.)
Staying for even a minor hurricane won’t be pleasant. Grocery and drug stores are closed. There might not be electricity and it will be hot. Water could be shut off. In other words, the circumstances could be miserable. Residents should decide based on what’s proper for the vulnerable person in their group — whether that is an elderly aunt or a newborn.
Monroe County Emergency Management officials, as well as other agencies, will disseminate pertinent hurricane information through a variety of media. Check the Weekly’s Facebook page; website of your local municipality; tune in to channel 76 on Comcast Cable; friend the US National Weather Service Key West on Facebook or call the hotline, 1.800.955.5504.
Where are you going?
The 2020 Hurricane Season has its own set of challenges; namely, where should you go to avoid the coronavirus? If an evacuation is called, this is probably the best year to shelter with friends or family rather than a public shelter because the risk of infection is less in a smaller group. Evacuating to a hotel is also less desirable — if for no other reason that most Americans have taken a financial hit this year from lost jobs and it’s expensive. In normal circumstances, evacuees are encouraged only to travel as far as necessary — get off the coast, get to high ground and a well-built structure. In 2020, evacuees should consider researching hot spots and avoiding those destinations. All of these options, however, are better than trying to shelter in place in the Keys during a major hurricane. Be smart: the imminent threat of bodily danger in a hurricane is a more serious concern than evacuating into unknown circumstances.