Hurricane Irma came with every possible warning and the longest period of anticipation ever provided by modern technology. We had hurricane-tracking planes and expert models ad infinitum on the job. I can’t imagine that technology can do much better in the future.
However, if we suffered like we did, in terms of power outages, from being 100 miles from the eye, how much worse would that suffering have been if we were hit head-on?
There are two specific preparedness issues on which we can all agree:
▪ Powerlines must be either underground or at least above ground on sturdy, reinforced concrete columns. There is really no argument here. Having wooden poles to support power grids is living in the Stone Age.
▪ Facilities for elderly residents, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities must have stand-by, working generators. Most high-rise condos and hotels in Miami have generators for emergency lights and elevators. Some nursing homes and ALFs don’t have them, and if they do, their capacity is insufficient to provide air conditioning. When you combined that deficiency with shuttered windows, you got tragic deaths such as the ones in a Hollywood nursing home.
Suffice it to say, there now are even more people who live in the Florida Keys who most likely will not follow future evacuation orders. They were hampered in their efforts to repair and rebuild by the constraints imposed post-hurricane that kept them from accessing their homes. Clearly, there are lessons for government officials who issue evacuation orders, emergency curfews, and other limitations to freedom of movement:
▪ Evacuation orders must include highway counter-flows. When Miami-Dade orders evacuation of 600,000 residents, you would think it would be coordinated with the state of Florida so that all or most lanes of I-75 and I-95 would be immediately used for one-directional travel. Forcing people on the highways north without gas supplies is a dereliction of duty.
▪ Traffic signals must be immediately replaced by temporary measures. Miami Beach did well by placing portable stop signs at every intersection. Miami-Dade County did well by providing police officers at many major ones; Miami also mobilized large numbers of public service aides, though they should be more visible and better trained.
One of my most enduring memories was driving back to my place in Miami Beach (after three couples and five grandchildren took over my city condo) and being stopped for ID on the MacCarthur Causeway. One officer saw my county ID and yelled to the other: “Hey, we have a county commissioner here.” The other one answered: “County commissioners can go anywhere they want.”
It made me wonder: If a county commissioner and the news media can go pretty much anywhere they want, why can’t a regular citizen who wants to secure his residence after a hurricane do likewise?
Xavier Suarez represents District 7 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.