KEY WEST, Fla. --
Tourism officials in the Florida Keys and Key West take a novel
approach to the sensitive subject of hurricanes: Communicate openly
tourism departments tend to bury their heads in the proverbial
beach sand and hope they dont get hit, said Andy Newman, a
spokesman for local tourism board the Monroe County Tourist
Development Council (MCTDC).
But we realize we
are in a storm area and we want to make sure our visitors are safe,
he said. We dont like doing visitor evacuations. We realize they
are inconvenient. But we are taking a very proactive approach to
languishing in hurricane denial, the MCTDC has organized a formal
communications program in close coordination with local emergency
When danger lurks
in the form of an emerging storm system, the council works with
emergency management officials to get information to visitors in
the Florida Keys about the storm and how to avoid
When we get a hurricane
threat, I go to the National Hurricane Center as part of the
emergency management team and monitor things, said Newman. We send
out a series of e-mails and fax blasts to media, the airlines, AAA
and to every property that has a fax line. We post all the
information on the Visit Florida site, [such as] the position of
the hurricane, the condition of the exit routes, places of safe
When the danger
subsides, Newman returns to his regular job of promoting tourism to
Im one of the few
people whos charged with the responsibility of getting people to
leave the Keys, and then when the storm is over to get them to come
back, he said.
Because of the
particular geographic features of the Keys, authorities often begin
visitor evacuations even before there is a hurricane watch, which
is invoked 36 hours before the possibility of storm-force
In the case of
Hurricane Wilma in October, visitors were evacuated a week before
the storm actually hit.
Weve got to react
earlier here than almost anywhere around, except maybe a Caribbean
island, said Newman.
The only roadway
in and out the Keys is U.S. Route 1, and often after an evacuation
the threatened storm never materializes, he noted.
Out of four or
five evacuations, we may only get hit once. Its a very difficult
decision, but you dont have any choice.
decision is very costly to the economy of the Keys, which relies
almost solely on tourism.
The local economy
lost $45 million in the case of Wilma.
Keys tourism officials understand the economic ramifications of
ordering evacuations, Newman noted, they are also charged with
We do this
because we want travelers and travel agents to know that if they or
their clients are in the path of a hurricane, the tourism council
will be working hand in hand with emergency management officials to
keep them safe, he said, adding that normally tourist boards and
emergency management officials rarely see eye to eye.
They hardly ever
work with each other, Newman said. Here in the Florida Keys, we
have a different situation.
reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].