Caution urged as Hurricane Irma approaches Florida

Hurricane Irma may touch down in Florida this weekend.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Texas and Louisiana, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott suspended hotel occupancy taxes and hotel rates dropped to the low $60 range as sympathetic operators helped evacuees seek shelter. Now, a second and even more powerful hurricane could make contact in Florida this weekend, with Gov. Rick Scott urging all Florida citizens to heed evacuation orders should they come. 

A street sign under water in Lumberton, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey.

Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, has already caused Scott to suspend tolls statewide, and Miami is planning for evacuations, shelters and large-scale closings of businesses. In addition, a report from News 4 Jax found that Jacksonville hotels are already filling up, with Austin Horne, manager of the Holiday Inn Express near J. Turner Butler Blvd., saying the property is sold out from Saturday through almost Friday. In his statement, Horne suggested guests should reserve a guestroom anywhere they can if they may need one, then cancel it before 6 p.m. the day of because there are no cancellation fees at this time—something operators should keep in mind and adapt to as the storm approaches. 

Because the storm’s movements are so unpredictable, the extent of the damage it could cause remains to be seen. However, should the storm touch down on the Florida coast, its potential for damage could be extensive. Meteorologist Brad Nitz posted on Twitter that as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5, the storm was sustaining wind speeds of 185 miles per hour.

“It’s hard to even conceive of winds this strong,” Nitz said in his post.

Irma is not only strong, it’s large. The entire Detroit metropolitan area could fit in Irma’s eye alone, and the entirely of the storm is larger than the entire state of Ohio. For this reason, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association released a list of steps its members should take to begin disaster preparation and contribute to emergency efforts, such as:

  • Register your business with FLVBEOC, a partnership between the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Center for Disaster Risk Policy at Florida State University. Receive up-to-date storm information, report open/closed business status, complete a business damage assessment survey and request and offer resources. Register here.
  • Get a plan. Build your customized business disaster plan and encourage your employees to build a customized family emergency plan at FLGetAPlan.com.
  • Keep travelers informed. Visit Florida is providing weather updates and official source links for visitors to keep up with the latest changes here.
  • Have compassion for cancellations. FRLA encourages its lodging members to consider waiving all cancellation fees in an emergency of this nature. The hotel industry’s goal is to keep visitors safe and out of harm’s way.
  • Offer shelter. All hotel and lodging providers are strongly encouraged to enroll now in the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program. This provides short-term lodging for eligible disaster survivors whose communities are either uninhabitable or inaccessible due to disaster-related damage.
  • Make accommodations inventory available. As mandatory and voluntary evacuation notices are issued in the coming days, visitors and residents can make lodging relocation plans here. First responders traveling to the impacted areas can also use this information to find available lodging. Lodging operators who are Expedia partners are to stay in communication with their contacts for availability.
  • Welcome pets. Once evacuations begin, consider relaxing restrictions on pets at your lodging property to accommodate displaced evacuees.
  • Report price-gouging. Because the entire state of Florida is under a declared state of emergency, Florida’s price-gouging law applies statewide. Learn how to comply and/or report violations online or via the attorney general’s price-gouging hotline at 866-966-7226.
  • Stay informed. Gov. Scott has rescinded all weight and driver restrictions for highways so water, food, fuel and emergency supplies can be brought to Florida quickly. Visit here to learn more.