Miami-Dade dispatches police to staff storm shelters amid “glitches” in opening more

Miami-Dade rushed police to understaffed storm shelters on Friday after delays in opening about two dozen facilities, with Mayor Carlos Gimenez describing a plan overwhelmed by the largest evacuation in the county’s history.

The police deployments, announced Friday evening, followed a hectic day of shelters stopping people at the door because they were full or not ready to open yet. It was after dark when Gimenez announced the long-awaited names of two dozen new shelters ready to accept new residents. By 8 p.m., more than 40 shelters were listed as open, with six at capacity, and about 23,000 people inside of them.

“There were some glitches,” Gimenez said. “We’re human. and sometimes we make mistakes. But we’re going to learn from these mistakes.”

(For a list of which shelters are open and which shelters are filled in Miami-Dade County, click here or see box at the end of this story.)

The central problem appeared to be the gap between the number of shelters Miami-Dade wanted with the staffing available to manage those shelters. The county said it had counted on a combination of Red Cross and National Guard personnel to run more than 40 shelters, which are mostly housed in schools.

Despite its ambitions, Miami-Dade began Friday with only eight shelters operating and four of them were full by mid-morning. In the race to open others, school administrators said they stepped in to run operations that should fall under the county government’s responsibility during storms. That saw some principals coming in to oversee shelter operations and what was generally described as a rocky effort to keep ahead of demand for refuge from Hurricane Irma.

“I cannot underscore enough the need for a faster deployment of the management entities to the shelters after the opening time is declared,” schools chief Alberto Carvalho said Friday afternoon. He said he had made the executive decision to allow evacuees to enter school sites at the declared opening time even if county officials had not yet arrived, and that he would continue to do so.

At an evening briefing, Gimenez acknowledged a string of challenges with the shelter operations, including a computer system that left some administrators in the dark about shelter capacity and enough confusion about what do when a shelter got full that county bus drivers were commandeered to take people to unauthorized locations.

With the National Guard arrivals scheduled for midnight Friday and the Red Cross described as maxed out on volunteers, Gimenez dispatched dozens of police officers to schools across the county to help guide arrivals, supervise operations and other tasks.

“It’s all hands on deck,” said Juan Perez, director of Miami-Dade’s police department. “We’re willing to step in and fill the void.”

Even though some were full, most shelters on Friday were still able to accept residents. Gimenez said he wanted shelter spaces for 100,000 people to match an unprecedented evacuation effort he ordered ahead of a Category 5 storm menacing Miami. His voluntary evacuation orders issued Wednesday and Thursday covered more than 600,000 people.

By Friday afternoon, only 21 shelters were listed as open, and it was clear the county was struggling to keep on schedule.

“People are coming in droves,” said Dennis Moss, a Miami-Dade commissioner representing South Dade who told the media about the Robert Morgan Education Center in southwest Miami-Dade being filled to capacity about an hour before the county could confirm the information. “People don’t feel safe in the housing they’re in.”

Earlier in the day, Gimenez acknowledged the strain in trying to open the most shelters in Miami-Dade’s history, on the heels of an evacuation order covering more than 600,000 people. “Opening a shelter is not as easy as you think,” he said at a midday press briefing. “We’ve run out of Red Cross volunteers. Now we’re going to use the National Guard.”

The county faced push back on its explanation. A Red Cross spokesman denied the charity had fell short of volunteers. The state, which oversees the National Guard, said it is up to the county to get the shelters open.

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Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Emergency Operations Center, said it is the county’s role to open shelters but they don’t need to be stocked with all the supplies in order to open.

“It is not vital that all of those things be in place. The vital thing is they are in a hardened storm shelter and they will live,” he said. “By having the shelters open, they are given the motivation to leave and be safe.”

William Manley, spokesman for the Florida National Guard, said the agency mobilized 7,000 soldiers to face Irma’s broad threat to the state. “They’re sprinkled everywhere,” he said. A storm threatening all of Florida has caused staffing complications, Manley said, but he noted local agencies can also staff shelters if the National Guard isn’t available.

With tropical-storm force winds expected sometime Saturday, the nighttime openings of more than 20 shelters staffed by police officers offered more last-minute options for people deciding to leave their homes ahead of Irma. Gimenez said he expected a rush Saturday morning, and wanted the county to err on the side of providing too much shelter.

“I’d rather have 80,000 empty spaces, than have people turned away because we have no more room in shelters,’ he said. “This is an extremely powerful storm that poses a great threat to Miami-Dade County.”

Miami-Dade County has opened additional shelters to better accommodate residents evacuating their homes.

Evacuation Center




Amelia Earhart Elem

5987 East 7th Ave


American Senior High

18350 NW 67th Ave


Andover Middle School

121 NE 207 Street


Barbara Goleman Senior High

14100 NW 89th Ave


Bob Graham Education Center

15901 NW 79th Ave


Coral Park Senior High

8865 SW 16th Street


Country Club Middle School

18305 NW 75th Place


Darwin Fuchs (Sunshine) Pavilion

10901 Coral Way


Pet Friendly

Eugenia B. Thomas K-8 Center

5950 NW 114th Ave


Felix Varela Senior High

15255 SW 96th Street


G. Holmes Braddock Senior High

3601 SW 147th Ave


Georgia Jones Middle School

1331 NW 46th Street


Hammocks Middle School

9889 Hammocks Blvd.


Pet Friendly (limited capacity)

Hialeah Gardens Middle

11690 NW 92 Ave


Hialeah Gardens Senior

11700 Hialeah Gardens Blvd.


Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High

7977 West 12th Ave


Hialeah Middle School

6027 E 7th Ave


Hialeah Senior High

251 East 47th Street


Highland Oaks Middle

2375 NE 203rd Street


Pet Friendly

Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy

255 NW 115th Street


Jorge Mas Canosa Middle School

15735 SW 144th Street


Lake Stevens Middle School

18484 NW 48th Place


Linda Lentin K-8 Center

14312 NE 2nd Ct


Miami Carol City Senior High

3301 Miami Gardens Drive


Miami Central Senior High

1781 NW 95th Street


Miami Edison Senior

6161 NW 5th Ct


Miami Killian Senior High

10655 SW 97th Ave


Miami Lakes Educational Center

5780 NW 158th Street


Miami Norland Senior

1050 NW 195th Street


Miami Northwestern Senior High

1100 NW 71st Street


North Miami Beach Senior High

1247 NE 167th Street


North Miami Middle

700 NE 137 Street


North Miami Senior High

13110 NE 8th Ave


Robert Morgan Senior High

18180 SW 122nd Ave


Ronald Reagan Senior High

8600 NW 107th Ave.


Ruben Dario Middle

350 NW 97th Ave


Shenandoah Middle

1950 SW 19 Street


South Dade Middle

291000 SW 194 Ave


South Dade Senior High

28401 SW 167th Ave


South Miami Senior (EHPA BLDG)

6856 SW 53rd Street


Terra Environmental Senior High

11005 SW 84th Street


W.R. Thomas Middle School

13001 SW 26th Street