The FIU Recreation Center serves as the designated hurricane shelter for Monroe County (the Florida Keys) only in weather emergencies. When activated, the shelter unites several regional agencies - the American Red Cross, Miami-Dade Office of Emergency Management, Monroe County Department of Health, and FIU.
How the Shelter Functions
What determines shelter status?
When threatened by a Category 3 (and above) Tropical Cyclone, Florida State Law requires the evacuation of all Monroe County residents to the mainland. Florida International University is the designated out-of-county shelter for Monroe County Special Needs Clients (SNC) only. Monroe County Special Needs population evacuates out of the county for ALL category storms and would be directed to the FIU campus.
When it is anticipated that Tropical Storm Force (TSF) winds are forecasted to affect the Florida Keys within 72 hours, the Monroe County Shelter Manager will initiate coordinating calls between the agencies. These calls will continue until the order for the evacuation is implemented - typically at the 36-42 hour period prior to the arrival of TSF Winds. Notification will be made to the designated agency officials no less than 4 hours prior to the anticipated issuance of an out-of-county evacuation order. Note that even though Miami-Dade County may NOT be under alert in these conditions, the Rec Center must respond to conditions in Monroe.
When notified of the imminent evacuation process, Recreation Services and Facilities Management staff go to work preparing the Rec Center for shelter operation. Protective floor coverings are put in place, electrical /plumbing preparations are performed (all in a 5-hour process), and fitness equipment is removed from designated areas as necessary. Notices are publicized as to the Rec Center's schedule and status of classes held in the building.
While it may seem an inconvenience to FIU students and REC members, due to safety issues from moving equipment, the Rec Center must close designated shelter areas during this process, and then close entirely prior to accepting any evacuees. This process occurs regardless of the number of evacuees expected.
The Red Cross and Monroe Dept. of Health take over operation of the building prior to the arrival of any vehicles carrying evacuees, and get to work setting up a check-in station (above right), cots, a nurses' station, and a food service area (below right). The shelter command post is set up in the Rec Center Conference Room. FIU Police and Monroe County Sheriff's Deputies provide building security, FIU Facilities Management provides 24-hour custodial & maintenance care, and Miami-Dade Fire/Rescue provides EMT and ambulance services.
For all categories of hurricanes, Special Needs Clients (SNC), those who are elderly and/or with medical issues, will be evacuated to the FIU Recreation Center. The transportation of Special Needs clients will begin approximately 24-36 hours prior to the arrival of Tropical Storm Force Wind conditions in Monroe County.
The SNC population is housed on the Rec Center's first floor inside the basketball gymnasium (above right). Monroe County Dept. of Health sets up a nurse's station in that area for constant monitoring of these individuals. Evacuees with extremely serious medical issues are housed in area health care facilities equipped for such attention. If necessary, the second floor Outpost and Fitness Rooms will be used (below right). Formulas have been determined to set the number of SNC which the Rec Center can accommodate.
What happens when its over?
When state and Monroe County officials determine the threat to their area is over, the order is issued for SNC evacuees to return. This may be within a matter of hours, or it may take several days or longer depending upon the conditions the evacuees are returning to. Again, conditions in Miami-Dade may be perfectly fine and FIU even operating normally, but as long as evacuees are still being housed, the Rec Center must remain closed.
After ALL SNC evacuees have been transferred out of the Rec Center, Monroe County, Red Cross and FIU administrators inspect the building for problems or damages which might have occurred and to document for possible reimbursement from Monroe and/or FEMA. FIU custodial crews clean and disinfect all areas used (locker rooms, gym, fitness rooms, bathrooms, offices, etc.) and both Rec Services and Facilities Management staff move equipment back into place. The building is reopened for recreational use once it is determined safe to do so by FIU Emergency Management.