You Call This Emergency Planning?

State Rep. Eleanor Sobel wants to know why this newer school in Hollywood, can't be used as a shelter
Melissa Jones

Dave Dwayne Davis and Paul Dewey, who live together in a tiny mobile home in the Royal Garden Village mobile home park in Hollywood, are ticked off. The two just learned that there is no longer a primary hurricane shelter in Hollywood and that the closest one is in Hallandale Beach, at Hallandale High School.

These newspaper vendors do not have cars, just bicycles. And they just can't see biking more than five miles to the high school in the middle of a torrential storm.

"What am I going to do, put Pops on my handlebars?" asks Davis, pointing with his cigarette to Dewey. "They should have someplace closer. Why isn't there one at McArthur High School anymore?"

The two men weren't the only ones pondering such a question as Hurricane Dennis slipped by. Smack-dab in the middle of hurricane season, with tropical storms looming off the Florida coast, few Hollywood residents seem to know where hurricane shelters are, let alone that the shelter locations were changed this year and that the city of Hollywood no longer has its own primary shelter. That could spell pandemonium in the event a hurricane does strike the area.

"Most people in Hollywood don't have any idea where Hallandale High School or Watkins Elementary School are," says State Rep. Eleanor Sobel, referring to the two closest shelters. Sobel will be fighting to have a primary shelter restored in Hollywood, and for good reason.

For thousands of elderly and infirm residents living in condos on Hollywood beach and without relatives nearby, shelters are their only choice -- that or violating evacuation orders and staying put, as many do.

Imagine that a hurricane watch and mandatory evacuation are declared along Hollywood beach -- which occur when a Category 1 or 2 storm approaches -- and the thousands of residents don't know where the nearest shelter is, having received no information about it in the mail. They turn on the television or radio to find out and get the address for Hallandale High. But directions aren't given. Their option could be to take one of the buses that go up and down A1A, but they come only every half-hour. Many prefer to drive themselves, filling up their automobiles with valuables they don't want to get ruined. Confused and stressed-out evacuees take off in cars looking for a shelter.

Now picture the roads.

The American Red Cross, together with the School Board of Broward County, has come up with a new list of hurricane evacuation shelters this year -- and not one of the primary shelters, where people can go when a hurricane watch or warning is first announced, is in Hollywood.

In fact there is not one primary shelter anywhere between Sunrise Boulevard and Pembroke Road, all the way west to Nob Hill Road. That means nearly half the county is without a primary shelter.

This year the Red Cross chose newer schools that were built using the new hurricane-protection standards, which require double-enforced walls, fewer windows, and smaller roof spans, rather than making the shelter designations geographically. Hollywood Hills High School, with its unprotected skylights, windows, and hallways, was cut from the list of primary shelters and replaced with Hallandale High and Watkins Elementary. For some residents this means a drive of four or more miles.

Hollywood officials who are responsible for the public's safety during an emergency aren't happy.

"I'm pissed," says Hollywood Fire Division Chief Bob Madge. "I'd like to see a centrally located shelter open in Hollywood, one that is familiar to the citizens, so people will go there. We have a hard-enough time getting people to go to shelters during an evacuation; we don't need any additional problems. If they don't know where it is, they probably will just opt to stay home."

Sobel is so distressed about the lack of an "A-rated" shelter in Hollywood she is asking School Board member Carole Andrews to help restore a Hollywood shelter to the list. She wants to know why Stirling Elementary School, a sleek, newer school next door to Hollywood High School, can't be used. "I saw the devastation that took place with Andrew," Sobel says. "Our shelters were packed. A city of 130,000 residents should have its own A-rated shelter."

Laila Haddad, spokesperson for the Red Cross in Broward, says she doesn't know why Stirling Elementary wasn't chosen. "It doesn't mean Stirling is bad," she says. "We simply chose seven new schools that have enhanced protection areas." And since Broward County has 28 cities and only 12 primary shelters, many cities do not have shelters, she points out.

But Hallandale Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan, who did not know that Hallandale High School would be the primary shelter for Hollywood beach residents until New Times informed him, says, although he has no doubt his paramedic staff could handle the additional evacuees, he has questions about whether the school is large enough to accommodate all the potential new evacuees. "I'll have to look into this,'' he says.

Hollywood Fire Chief Randy Burrough would prefer to have a shelter in Hollywood so that the city's paramedics could be responsible for caring for their own citizens instead of burdening Hallandale paramedics. "I would love to have one in Hollywood," he says. However, he agrees with the Red Cross that the safety of a building should be the first priority in choosing a shelter.

There are secondary and tertiary hurricane shelters in Hollywood that would be opened to handle overflow if a Category 2 storm hit or if the primary shelters filled up. The primary shelters are the first shelters to open during a hurricane watch -- and by the time a warning is called or a hurricane begins strengthening, mobile home and coastal residents might have already gone to a primary shelter in another city.

When a hurricane warning is issued and evacuations are ordered, the Red Cross asks television stations to list shelter sites. But residents who want to drive their own cars had better have directions to the schools ahead of time.

In a hurricane watch, residents of Hollywood's several mobile home parks as well as residents of barrier islands and some coastal areas are required to evacuate. If a watch is upgraded to a warning, mandatory evacuation zones could be extended all the way to Interstate 95.

Of course not all evacuees go to shelters. In fact, because of the lack of creature comforts at the shelters, even Broward County Emergency Management directors recommend residents stay with friends and family in western Broward or go to motels out west. And some residents refuse to leave their homes altogether. Only between 8 and 10 percent of the total number of people under mandatory evacuation orders go to shelters, according to Tony Carper, director of emergency management for Broward County.

Carper encourages evacuees to "drive the shortest distance possible" to avoid clogging the highways and roads -- meaning, don't take off for Orlando or points north. "If every person in the evacuation zone elected to leave South Florida, there would be 600,000 cars on the road," he says. "The line of traffic would be hundreds of miles long. That would create terrible gridlock." Motorists driving to shelters in other cities wouldn't help.

Selma Kahan, a long-time Hollywood beach resident and president emeritus of the Hollywood Beach Civic Association, doesn't have a clue where Hallandale High School is. And while it's not a problem for her -- she goes to her son's house in Coral Springs at the first sign of a hurricane -- she worries about her fellow beach dwellers.

"We should have someone from emergency preparedness tell us where Hallandale High School is and how to get there, well in advance," she says. "They send us so many other things in the mail, why not that?"

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