Some presentations that I heard at this year’s National Hurricane Conference indicate that a significant percentage of people still don’t know if they live in a hurricane evacuation zone. This is critical information and one of the first steps for anyone developing a hurricane plan. No one should wait until an actual hurricane threat to find out if they could be asked to evacuate or not.
The greatest potential for large loss of life in a hurricane is from the storm surge. Large areas of the coastline can be inundated when water is pushed from the ocean onto the shore by the strong winds in a hurricane. Storm surge is the primary reason that people are asked to evacuate prior to a hurricane event. Fortunately, storm surge computer models can identify the areas at most risk. County emergency managers have taken the storm surge model results and developed evacuation zones for their respective counties.
Evacuation zone maps for Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties can be found in our Local 10 Hurricane Survival Guide on pages 6 through 8.
Emergency managers and other local officials will determine which zones will be evacuated based on the hurricane’s potential storm surge (which in turn is based on the hurricane’s track, intensity, size and associated uncertainties). Broward County’s two evacuation zones are pretty straightforward and defined as either east of the Intracoastal Waterway or east of U.S. 1 (Federal Highway). Miami-Dade County’s three evacuation zones are more complicated to describe in writing but are easier to understand by looking at a map. And Monroe County’s evacuation plan consists of a "phased evacuation" with five different zones. It is important to note that Monroe County shelters will NOT be opened in a major hurricane (Category 3, 4 or 5).
Miami-Dade County has an excellent Storm Surge Simulator tool on its website at http://www.miamidade.gov/OEM/storm-surge-simulator.asp to help us understand our vulnerability to storm surge. A Miami-Dade County resident can type in their address, select a category of hurricane (1 through 5), and visualize what storm surge could mean to their home. I suspect that this will be an eye-opener for many people. The simulator maps will hopefully not only educate people to their vulnerability to storm surge but also motivate them to take that first step in developing a hurricane plan by knowing whether they will possibly need to evacuate or shelter in place.