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Irma-bnb? How South Florida's Tourism Industry Could Help With Preparations For Future Storms

Al Diaz
Miami Herald
South Floridians head north on the Turnpike to escape Hurricane Irma when it seemed to be heading for Miami.

Hotels and room-sharing services could become part of hurricane preparations in South Florida, say officials who are looking to encourage local evacuations for future storms.

"Really, within the state there's nowhere to evacuate that's safer than staying within Miami-Dade County because we can't necessarily predict where a hurricane's going to end up," said Jane Gilbert, chief resilience officer for the city of Miami. "People had a hard time getting out of the state."

As residents tried to evacuate just prior to Hurricane Irma in September, many got stuck in near-standstill traffic on I-75, I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike. The traffic resulted in gas shortages and, with the storm churning landward, created frustrating and potentially dangerous situations for drivers.

There was also a lack of clarity over which evacuation destinations were actually safe, since some forecasts had the entire state of Florida in the “cone of uncertainty” where Irma could have made landfall. About 6.5 million people statewide were ordered to evacuate.

Read more: Evacuation Nation: In Florida There's Often No Escape From Hurricanes 

Gilbert and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez are among officials who say they want to look at increasing local hurricane evacuations, where people stay within miles of their homes instead of driving hundreds of miles north or leaving Florida entirely.

Gilbert says beyond public shelters that could include private sector opportunities.

"Could we certify certain hotels for being cat 1-, cat 3-, cat 5-certified? Should we work with a room share, like an Airbnb, for also certifying different homes? We have a lot of homes that are not lived in year-round," she said.

Full reports evaluating Irma preparations and response should be available from the city of Miami and other municipalities in the coming months.