Plan for emergency evacuation from storm: Manatee requires extra ID

With a hurricane bearing down on Bradenton and an emergency evacuation ordered by Manatee County, our first reaction is not to grab a utility bill in the rush out the door. Yet in the event of a disaster threat and order to flee, residents must carry at least two forms of identification in order to return home.

The intent behind this requirement is sound -- to thwart looting and theft. But a utility bill or other document that proves residency would be all too easy to forget while packing up valuables, treasured photographs and important papers like birth and marriage certificates, wills, and insurance policies.

State law requires counties to have re-entry procedures. Municipalities can develop their own emergency management programs. Bradenton's City Council took a look at the pros and cons of Manatee County's policy last week with a bit of befuddlement.

"I think they're being over cautious," Mayor Wayne Poston remarked.

"It seems like they're trying to make it as difficult as possible to get back into the property," Councilman Bemis Smith noted.

While two pieces of identification might be a hassle, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach also require residents obtain a hanging tag for re-entry. The Holmes Beach Police Department and Bradenton Beach City Hall issue tags, and residents are urged to acquire one before a storm approaches.

Manatee County has had the mandate requiring two forms of identification for re-entry after an emergency evacuation for many years. One of those must be a picture ID card.

But since the county has not conducted a major evacuation, the identification requirement is not well known. That would present problems in the event of a sudden order to leave. Emergency management officials would have to inform county residents quickly.

Isn't a person's current address on their drivers license? By law, it should be. Wouldn't that suffice as proof of residency for many people? You'd think so, but don't depend on that.

Plus, with a large number of out-of-state owners of seasonal and vacation properties, a drivers license would not measure up.

With hurricane season approaching -- June 1 will arrive all too soon -- this is the time to think about such matters. Like placing an old utility bill or other document proving residency in your vehicle.

This also serves as a reminder for residents to develop an evacuation plan, select potential destinations and routes, and map out emergency shelters. Just like preparing a survival kit with three days of food and water in the event a hurricane cripples the county, residents should develop evacuation plans should one be ordered.

The state Division of Emergency Management operates a website, FloridaEvacuates.com, that offers detailed information on preparations, including a free smart-phone application that pinpoints shelters around the state. Links report real-time traffic information, congestion, construction, severe weather and emergency evacuation information.

Like the Scout motto preaches, be prepared.