TREASURE ISLAND — With hurricane season just beginning, residents and businesses are being urged to participate in a new emergency evacuation program.
The program formalizes the evacuation process by providing free decals for vehicles used by residents and businesses so they will be allowed to re-enter the city after an evacuation.
"A re-entry decal is meant to speed up the re-entry process and minimize the amount of traffic and sightseers, people who shouldn't be there," said Treasure Island fire Chief Bill Mallory.
The decals — red for residents and blue for businesses — are put on a vehicle's front window. The decals can be picked up at City Hall after residents provide proof of their address with a current vehicle registration or a driver's license. Business owners can use their current business tax certificate.
"During an emergency, there might be roads closed because of downed power lines or trees or shifting sand. It might take a week or two to get everything cleaned up," said Mark Santos, Treasure Island IT director. "But certain areas might be cleaned up to allow residents to come back temporarily to check on their property."
Emergency management officials would be located at each bridge to Treasure Island to check for re-entry decals. City officials say vehicles without decals may be denied access.
But Mallory cautioned that the decal doesn't guarantee re-entry.
"Several hazards may exist after an event such as downed cable and power lines that can make roads within the city impassable," he said. Priority will be given to restoring services and making sure roads are passable.
During the last mandatory evacuation in 2004 with Hurricane Charley, Santos said city officials simply handed residents a piece of paper to allow them re-entry. With the decal system, officials said the process should go more smoothly.
Two vinyl stickers currently are allowed per household, Santos said. But more can be given out if needed, he said.
"For businesses, we would need to know how many staff members would be needed in case rehabilitation is needed," Santos said.
Since the decals are assigned to vehicles, Santos said residents selling or getting rid of their cars are being asked to remove the sticker and ask for a replacement.
City residents would be notified through the First Call emergency notification system the city installed a year ago. So far, 258 people have signed up to receive emergency notifications by home phone, cellphone, text message or email.
With 7,000 full-time residents, Santos said the city is hoping more will participate.
"We are trying to educate people that it is the best way to get the news out," he said. "But sometimes it takes an event for people to say 'I should sign up for this.' ”