“We should be beyond the word IF. We have to embrace the reality and the statement of WHEN the hurricane hits. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and 2017 proved that to us,” said Monroe County Emergency Management Director Marty Senterfitt.
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. In the event of a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, officials asks tourists to leave first. Then the call goes out for those with special needs, hospital patients, mobile home residents, and those living in low-lying areas to seek alternate shelter. If the storm is larger, a Category 3 to 5 storm, evacuation for everyone is mandatory. County shelters are only open for a Category 1 or 2 storm.
The good news is, even though we live on islands, we can literally get in the car and drive away.— Marty Senterfitt, county emergency management director
“That the general rule of thumb,” said Senterfitt, the Monroe County Emergency Management Director, “but there may be special circumstances that require us to adapt. The important thing is to follow the evacuation orders.” Staying, Senterfitt warns, won’t be pleasant. “The grocery store and drug store are closed. There’s no electricity. It’s hot. The water is not running. Are you really ready for that scenario?” asked Senterfitt. “Even if you are, do you really want to be here? Because it just became a miserable place to live.”
Evacuations are handled in a very precise manner because of the Keys’ geography. It takes time to get everyone out of the Keys safely before a storm hits. Evacuations generally begin 48 hours before a storm is expected to impact the islands. Often, the evacuation is called by zone. The Keys are divided into five zones.
Monroe County Emergency Management officials, as well as other agencies, will disseminate pertinent hurricane information through a variety of media. Check the 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.