Florida Keys

List that blocked essential personnel from re-entering Keys after Irma is likely gone

Police talk with Keys residents at a checkpoint at Mile Marker 73. Tensions flared at the Lower Matecumbe Key checkpoint, and one in Florida City, in the days immediately following Hurricane Irma in September.
Police talk with Keys residents at a checkpoint at Mile Marker 73. Tensions flared at the Lower Matecumbe Key checkpoint, and one in Florida City, in the days immediately following Hurricane Irma in September. Miami Herald file photo

In the days immediately following September’s Hurricane Irma, many people and organizations that were permitted to re-enter the Florida Keys after the mandatory evacuation were stopped by law enforcement at a checkpoint in Florida City because their names were not found on a “Re-entry List of Names.”

This caused several tense situations with police at the Florida City checkpoint, and another checkpoint on Lower Matecumbe Key. In some cases, essential services were prevented from reaching hard-hit areas of the Keys.

That list is likely a thing of the past, to be replaced by a “placard system” designating two groups of organizations that Monroe County Emergency Management considers “essential,” a multi-agency and stakeholder task force stated in a report released this week.

“What we’re trying to do is to have more flexibility to allow for the complexity of people’s different stories and situations and to allow people in accordingly,” County Administrator Roman Gastesi said Wednesday.

Kimberly Matthews, senior director of strategic planning, said during and in the days right after the Sept. 10 Category 4 storm passed, “communication was very, very difficult,” and individuals and organizations who belonged in the Keys to help with recovery were kept out too many times because their names were not on the list.

Under the proposed system, which needs approval by the five-member Monroe County Commission, the placards would be given to organizations approved by county Emergency Management, likely around April, and those organizations would distribute them to personnel they deem essential for re-entry.

The task force designated two groups of organizations that would be eligible under the placard system. The first group includes emergency medical services, public utilities, county and municipal support staff, telecommunication utilities and companies and government contractors. The second group includes gas station employees, grocery store staff, those working at construction supply and hardware stores, local contractors and bank employees.

“We were a cash-dependent society at the time,” Matthews said.

Resident re-entry

The current system of allowing residents back based on colored window stickers would stay under the task force’s recommendations. The stickers are printed and distributed every April and can be picked up by residents at locations like local Sheriff’s Office stations, courthouses and county administration offices. They are to be placed in the lower left corner of a vehicle’s windshield.

Police at checkpoints, if the recommendations are implemented, will have a “no-sticker, no-entry” policy for motorists trying to get back into the Keys when it’s announced residents are allowed to return. However, there would be “vetting stations” where residents who don’t have stickers can show law enforcement valid documentation that shows they live in the Keys.

CERT training

The task force also recommended creating a “Community Emergency Response Team” consisting of trained people who would be allowed back into the Keys before the general population who evacuated. This group would receive 40 hours of training in skills such as basic search and rescue, “first aid in a disaster environment” and basic fire safety.

Those completing the training would be allowed back into the Keys with the second tier of those participating in the placard system, according to the task force’s report.

David Goodhue: 305-923-9728

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