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Hurricane Re-Entry Tags Mailed To Tampa Evacuation Zone Residents

Tags that identify residents and business owners in the city of Tampa's evacuation zones are being mailed out to 70,000 people next week.
Tampa Police
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Hurricane season may be about three months away, but the city of Tampa already has a plan to help residents after a storm.

A special tag is being mailed to people in coastal evacuation zones. They can hang it in their car to show that they belong in an area.

The goal is to speed up re-entry for people who may need to assess damage to their homes, and to keep away criminals and looters.

"It makes it easier for us to get people get back in their neighborhood and it allows us to know who belongs and who doesn't," Tampa police chief Brian Dugan said Wednesday .

The initial batch of 70,000 tags is being mailed out next week to people in coastal evacuation zones in Tampa, south of Interstate 275 and Interstate 4.

"And then we are asking that you put it in the glove box of your car. Do that now so it doesn't get lost," Dugan said.

Officials urge people to store the re-entry tags in their glove box, so they will be on hand if -- or when -- a hurricane hits.
Credit Tampa Police
The Florida Channel
Officials urge people to store the re-entry tags in their glove box, so they will be on hand if -- or when -- a hurricane hits.

Even though Tampa has not been directly hit by a hurricane in over 90 years, officials have learned lessons from other areas, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

"It is going to be a tool for us that will allow first responders to help protect the neighborhoods that have been affected and devastated, to allow neighbors to get back into their neighborhoods quicker and start the rebuilding process, and allow for a much more seamless environment," Buckhorn said.

A similar program already exists in Pinellas County, home to about a dozen barrier islands. Around 88,000 re-entry tags were expected to be distributed there in 2015.

Evacuating before a storm can be stressful, but often the worst time comes after a hurricane hits, as residents rush home to assess the damage, Tampa officials say.

Buckhorn said that having re-entry tags should help keep away those who might try to take advantage of people in anguish, if their homes have sustained major damage.

"It will help us identify unscrupulous contractors who will descend upon an area that has been hit by a hurricane," Buckhorn said.

The mailing is happening several months before hurricane season, and aims to add "another layer of preparedness for the city," said Tampa fire chief Nick LoCicero.

"You need to really watch for those things in the mail. Do not throw them away. Please don't," he said.

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Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.