Motorists line up to enter the Keys at a checkpoint in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Thursday, Sept.14, 2017, in Florida City, Fla. Residents of the Florida Key continue to be turned away. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

County Commissioners agree that the process of allowing people back into the Keys after a hurricane needs a revamp.

On April 19, the Board of County Commissioners and Sheriff Rick Ramsay discussed recommendations of a 16-person task force, created after Hurricane Irma.

Phasing the re-entry of Monroe County residents with colored stickers on their windshields worked, the task force found, but an annual public education campaign is necessary. Stickers may also be distributed early, in the mail for example, rather than at distribution points as part of the evacuation process. 

There was much discussion – and some laughter – about “the magic list.”

Florida Highway Patrol officers and Sheriff’s Office deputies at entry checkpoints were supposed to have lists of essential personnel allowed back into the Keys, but no such lists ever existed. 

“It was very ineffective,” Ramsay said. “There was supposed to be a hurricane list, but almost none of the agencies who were supposed to send their lists in did and it made it hard for our men and women. It was so hard.”

The solution from the task force is to place placards on the vehicles of people who absolutely must be allowed back into the Keys.

The placards would identify two different groups: emergency services workers and government employees in the first; then other workers necessary for recovery, like volunteers and employees of grocery stores, banks and hotels. 

At the task force’s suggestion, Monroe County residents will have the opportunity to be involved in a 40-hour training course for basic search and rescue and first aid. Those who take the training will be granted advanced re-entry in the second placard group.

Commissioner Danny Kolhage said of all the complaints he’s heard after the storm, the re-entry fiasco is at the top.

“We’ve got to do this right and the board needs to be involved in it,” he said. 

The task force has met four times since Irma to improve the re-entry system in time for the next hurricane season, which begins June 1. The Board of County Commissioners will hear another update at its May 16 meeting at the Harvey Government Center in Key West. 

The 2018 recommendation, as well as the task force’s meeting agendas and minutes, are available on the Monroe County website at:

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