The Miami Passport Agency offices in the Omni Building are shut down and drying out after water damage. So what are the next steps for people needing passport services now or in the next few weeks?
Miami Passport Agency Director Ryan Dooley answered questions Tuesday to help U.S. citizens navigate the sudden obstacle. The office was shut down on Monday and those in need of urgent services were directed to other regional offices in Atlanta and New Orleans.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, sent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- the State Department handles passports -- a letter on Tuesday that requests “opening a temporary location in Miami for emergency passport services as soon as possible.”
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“I urge you to make every effort to minimize the inconvenience,” Nelson wrote, “including issuing clear guidance to affected travelers.”
Here is a guide on who is affected and on what to do:
Q: If you are traveling in the next two weeks, what now?
A: If you need to apply or renew your passport, call the National Passport Information Center, 877-487-2778. The line is answered, in English and Spanish, until 10 p.m. daily.
“We have a whole crisis response team at that number that’ll help people get to the nearest passport agency, if necessary, and get people specific information unique to their circumstances on how to get their passport,” Dooley said.
Q: Should everyone who needs passport services be concerned?
A: Unless you’re traveling in the next two weeks, this shutdown shouldn’t affect you.
“They should go to a local post office or local clerk of court and apply for their passport,” Dooley said. “They can pay the expedite fee and have their passport back within two weeks.”
Also, if you just need to renew, the State Department website is a good place to start.
Q: When will the Miami Passport Agency office reopen?
A: There’s no firm answer until after the damage has been totaled. For now, it’s closed “until further notice.”
The Omni is owned by the Genting Group.
“The passport office is the largest tenant affected and because of their location also the most affected,” wrote Genting Americas Senior Vice President for Public Affairs Michael Levoff in an e-mail to The Herald. “Repairs and restoration work is expected to be completed over the next several days. Power is being restored shortly.”
Q: Is the Miami Passport Agency going to reopen somewhere else while the Omni location dries?
A: “We’re working with another federal agency to establish at least two or three local areas where people can submit their passport applications,” Dooley said. “They’re not going to be able to have a passport printed the same day as they can when we’re up and running here at the Miami Passport Agency. But we will be able to get that process moving more quickly.”
He hopes to get the substitute satellites open by Friday.
The nearest agency offices that can print passports are in Atlanta, New Orleans and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Q: Why couldn’t the office distribute passports that already were finished and in the Miami office?
A: The water damage made the office unsafe for even that level of activity.
“No passports that were ready for pickup were damaged,” Dooley said. “As soon as it’s safe, I’m going to find a way to get them back to our customers. But right now, it’s just not safe to send people in and start hauling stuff out.”
Q: What about the applications and other paperwork in the office?
“Any of the thousands of applications in my office have not been damaged,” Dooley said. “As soon as the building and safety officials tell me it’s safe to go inside, I will go in with a team and I will send those passport applications to another passport agency that can issue those passports and get them to customers as soon as possible.”
Q: What happened Sunday to drench the office?
A: Levoff said a pipe burst.
Herald Staff Writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.