After overseeing the evacuation of a quarter of the county during last year's grueling Hurricane Irma, Miami-Dade County's emergency operations chief said Thursday he's taking a job at Florida State University.
The news comes on the eve of the hurricane season, which starts June 1.
Curt Sommerhoff, who led the agency for nine years, said during the annual Governor's Hurricane Conference in West Palm Beach this week that he made the decision to leave in part over quality of life.
"It was a tough decision, but really a quality of life decision," he said. "In Tallahassee, they talk about traffic when there's six cars in front of you."
Deputy director Charles Cyrille has been appointed interim director, he said.
While Sommerhoff oversaw operations during a time of relative calm for the county — after back-to-back hurricanes in 2005, South Florida had an 11-year hurricane-free streak — other catastrophes pulled in county resources, including the BP oil spill in the Gulf and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Sommerhoff also oversaw a major update to the county's emergency center in Doral. Then came Irma.
"Irma was something truly significant," he said.
With tracks at one point leaning toward a Miami strike, Sommerhoff said about 700,000 residents were forecast to be hit by storm surge. That triggered evacuation orders for 650,000 residents. More than 40 shelters were opened, with about 65,000 evacuees expected. After some failed to open in time or have enough staff, the county came under fire for being unprepared. Sommerhoff said the county will likely be clearer about shelter conditions for future evacuations.
"Our messaging has always been that sheltering should be a last resort," he said during a panel on communicating hurricane hazards. "So expect to see harder messaging about that."
Sommerhoff said he first interviewed for the FSU position in April 2017, but only received an offer two months ago. He started last Monday, just under a month before the 2018 hurricane season begins. His tenure with the county, he said, lasted about the same amount of time as the two previous emergency chiefs.
"So nine seems to about the time," he joked.