Following a major hurricane, many coastal residents have to deal with uncertainty and frustration as they wait to get back to their homes after an evacuation.

In the hours and sometimes days after a major storm, law enforcement officers will prevent barrier islands residents from returning to their homes until debris and downed power lines can be cleared from roadways.

Pinellas County has a new re-entry program to help residents through this difficult process.

“The whole purpose of re-entry is to keep them safe until roads are cleared, power lines are cleared and some traffic control can be put back,” said Emergency management Director Sally Bishop.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri came up with the idea of a program that allows the residents to sign up at their city hall to receive a hang tag for their car that identifies where they live.

After the storm, law enforcement officers will use a bar code reader to scan the hang tag to speed up the process of re-entry.

So far, only about 19 percent of eligible Pinellas County residents have signed up.

“That hang tag system is going to be very critical to them or it’s going to be very difficult for them to gain re-entry once re-entry is being allowed on the barrier islands,” said Bishop.

Gene Burgess and his wife live on Belleair Beach and have already received their hang tags.

“I want to get back here to claim whatever I have,” said Burgess.

Pinellas County officials are concerned that if residents wait until the last minute, it will not be possible for them to process all of the requests..

Residents who live in Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Clearwater, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Madeira Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach, St. Pete Beach, tierra Verde and Treasure Island need to sign up for the emergency access permits at their local city hall.

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