Locals practice drills with approach of Hurricane Dorian

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“We’ve started what we call the battle rhythm,” said Martin Senterfitt, Monroe County’s director of Emergency Management. “It’s like a timeline that we began when the storm was eight days out.”

He describes the Hurricane Dorian “dry run” in the Florida Keys as a checklist that begins with a phone tree, touching base with the section chiefs of the incident command system, a structure that provides order and outlines duties in the times of disaster.

Senterfitt also said he’s been in touch with the weather service, more than the prescribed amount, and also fielded calls from Tallahassee. Cities and counties around Florida render mutual aide by sending trained, incident-command professionals to areas affected by storms.

“Tallahassee has called us, not because they think we will be affected, but because they want to know who they can move where, based on where the storm hits,” Senterfitt said. “Right now, Florida is like a giant chessboard with pieces laid out all over the state.”

Cynthia Hall is Monroe County’s Assistant Attorney. She’s also the county’s emergency operations logistics chief, constantly recruiting members to her team.

“It’s very important to have a similar command structure, used by every emergency management agency in the country. We’re better trained and we know what to do,’ she said. “In the event of a future storm, we’ll have to bring in fewer outside resources, although we will always need help.”

Marathon Fire Chief John Johnson is also on the move. He’s going department by department in the city, checking for storm readiness — topping off fuel tanks, inventorying emergency supplies.

“We’ll also be visiting local construction sites, reminding them to secure loose objects and bringing down cranes so as to minimize storm damage,” he said.

In the event of a serious storm, the City of Marathon has signed a “hurricane contract” to ensure it will have the right communication equipment. Johnson said the equipment would arrive before the storm, and be able to provide data lines and phones lines, via satellite, immediately after with guaranteed bandwidth.

Islamorada Fire Chief Terry Abel said the department preps throughout the year while revising storm plans all the time. He said he and the department continue to monitor the storm.

Key West Fire Chief Michael Davila is also ensuring the island is in order for the impending season — and anything that could happen in the coming days.

“We take storms very seriously in the city,” he said. While they do not consider Tropical Storm Dorian an immediate cause for alarm, that doesn’t mean the city is resting on its laurels. “We participated in a countywide video conference call today (Aug. 27), where Jon Rizzo with NOAA provided their current projections emphasizing that things can and will change with time. We will continue to monitor and have regular conference calls until the storm is no longer a threat.”

Davila is also overseeing fueling of all vehicles and generators that could be called into service, in a concerted effort to prepare for whatever the season, and this storm, may bring. He projects that they will know more Thursday, “since the storm is expected to be past Hispaniola,” and any important information for residents will be relayed then. Regardless of intensity or lack thereof, however, “preparation is always a good idea.”

— Sarah Thomas and Jim McCarthy contributed to this report

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