When we first drove from Miami to the Florida Keys, we were amazed at the tropical beauty of this string of mini islands. The water is beautiful, the sky is everywhere colorful and of course there is nothing like watching the sunset off Key West. But somewhere in our observations a little subtle thought kept coming to the surface. What can it be like here when a major hurricane is brewing in the Caribbean and is blowing directly towards the Key West? How do people prepare? Even for visitors like us it was important to be aware of hurricane preparation for the Florida Keys, Florida.
The Unique Topography of the Florida Keys. There are few places in the lower 48 United States that are any more vulnerable to the thrust of a major hurricane than Key West and the Florida Keys. All of the islands that make up this scenic chain of islands have little elevation to their name. Most sit either at sea level or just a little above sea level. This is fine when the waves are rolling gently ashore and the winds are gusting at 15 miles an hour. But when hurricane force winds, rain and storm surges arrive the islands are facing potential disaster. Working to prepare Key West and the Florida Keys from something near to cataclysmic results is the office of the Monroe County Sheriff.
Help from the Monroe County Sheriff . From the Sheriffs Office in Monroe County one can receive a variety of helpful tools. First the county office has available many different flyers and brochures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA ) which provide updated information about what residents and guests of Keys West and the rest of the Keys should do in the event of an approaching hurricane. Keeping these pamphlets on hand in your home may make all the difference in taking the best steps to maintain your safety and security in the eventuality of a hurricane.
While these pamphlets are generally helpful, the Monroe County Sheriff makes it very clear that Key West and the Florida Keys present far from a typical hurricane preparation situation. Among the first things that the Monroe County Sheriff makes clear is that in the event of a Category 3,4 or 5 storm you are instructed to evacuate the keys. No shelters will be open during such storms because the storms are not built to withstand storms of such intensity. There are shelters available for Category 1 or 2 storms but they are limited in number.
When Evacuation Becomes Necessary. When hurricanes reach the Category 3,4 or 5 level evacuation may be ordered . Residents are reminded that in Florida state law requires all residents to evacuate when ordered to do so. But even before such general orders are given , those living in less secure facilities like boats, mobile homes or RV’s should already begin to make their evacuation plans.
Going to a shelter does involve more than simply jumping in a car and taking off. Shelters for Category 1 and 2 storms on the Keys are sparsely equipped. There will be no medical services available at shelters and absolutely no pets will be taken in. Other accommodations for pets must be worked out by owners in advance of storms threatening the Keys. Those seeking shelter are also notified that no substantial meals will be served. You really need to come prepared
In the case of a Category 3,4, or 5 hurricane If it becomes necessary to evacuate Key West and the rest of the Florida Keys residents are reminded that state law requires all to evacuate upon government order to do so. the Monroe County Sheriffs Office has informed residents that their designated public shelter is back on the mainland in Dade County. Those evacuating are instructed to take Florida Turnpike Extension to Florida International University where shelter will be provided. Do not seek shelter at other Florida Shelters as they may not be open. Once you have reached Dade County you should try to connect with radio station WIOD ( 610 AM ) for updates on the progress of the storm and on shelter information.
To prepare for such a major evacuation residents should make certain that their cars are ready to do the job. Tanks should be filled, all car fluids should be at effective levels , tires, spare tires, and changing equipment should be ready. There should be supplies of food to go in the car to supply you while you are in transit.
Evacuation for Special Needs Residents. As difficult as evacuation can be for people of normal health and stamina, the need to evacuate can cause major upheaval for those who have special needs. Monroe County had this in mind when they made up their list of directives for the evacuation of special needs residents.
Most important, special needs residents need to bring with them any special foods or medications that are essential to maintaining their health. Also important are any special health assists like breathing equipment, monitors , crutches, wheel chairs , whatever you need to function at your normal capacity. Do not expect that shelters will be able to provide any more than shelter.
You must bring a sleeping bag, pillow and blankets . Plan to bring along any business papers, phone numbers or other written materials crucial to maintaining your health. As you prepare yourself to evacuate make certain you have with you those things that you customarily rely on to help you throughout the day and night. Again do not rely on shelters to be supplied in ways that will necessarily meet all of your needs.
Living at Key West or in the Florida Keys 99% is a lot like living in a special paradise. But in the case of that other 1% when a hurricane may be in the offing, life at Key West, Florida can become very difficult indeed. The best advice that Monroe County gives is to start early and prepare well. Keep an ear tuned to local broadcasts and definitely follow the directives given by government authorities monitoring the situation.