a blue sign that says hurricane evaculation route

Decisions by local officials to evacuate are never made lightly when an impending hurricane (Category 3 or higher) is barreling toward the island chain. 

A detailed and phased evacuation plan exists to ensure everyone on the island exits safely. All Keys agencies and government offices work together, including the Navy, Coast Guard, hospitals, county health department, public works departments, utilities, schools and even volunteer charitable organizations. All 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. Per Emergency Management Director Shannon Weiner, “Generally, we call for the evacuation of visitors and special-needs populations first.”

In some scenarios — like a rapidly intensifying hurricane — county officials might not distinguish among population groups or zones of the Keys. For example, if a small storm has the potential to escalate, evacuations might be called more urgently. 

In the event of a Category 3 to Category 5 storm, or if officials expect a storm to strengthen to those levels, evacuation is mandatory for everyone. County shelters are only open for a Category 1 or 2 storm (SEE PAGE 22).

Staying put, even for a minor hurricane, won’t be pleasant. Grocery and drug stores could be closed. Power will likely be out and it will be hot. Water could be shut off. In other words, circumstances could be miserable. Residents should decide based on what’s proper for the most 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 Keys Weekly’s Facebook page or website of your local municipality; tune in to channel 76 on Comcast Cable; follow the U.S. National Weather Service Key West on Facebook or call the hotline, 800-955-5504.

KNOW YOUR ZONE

Monroe County has a comprehensive plan that calls for phased evacuation with five zones established from MM 0 to Ocean Reef. The evacuation plan is intended to avoid unnecessary evacuation if some zones are expected to be affected and others not. So, know your zone if local officials order evacuations. NOTE: Evacuation zones are different from re-entry zones after a hurricane.

Zone 1: MM 0 to MM 6

Zone 2: MM 6 to MM 40

Zone 3: MM 40 to MM 63

Zone 4: MM 63 to the three-way stop at County Road 905-A 

Zone 5: County Road 905-A to mainland Monroe, including Ocean Reef