North Miami has designated an old high school as a potential shelter. The Krome detention center in West Miami-Dade is another possibility. In Broward County, Sheriff Al Lamberti said he's prepared to reopen a jail shut down last year by budget cuts.
With the devastation in Haiti, South Florida is preparing once again to play a role assisting a troubled country. Though there is no sign of an exodus of Haitians heading to U.S. shores, governments and social service agencies are preparing for the possibility.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Miami has proposed airlifting Haitian orphans to South Florida for temporary haven, so Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is pushing to turn the old Baptist Hospital in Kendall into a residential school. Federal officials have a long-standing plan in the event of a mass migration from the Caribbean, though they say they are not expecting to put it to use immediately.
"It's more likely that there may be some sort of orderly evacuation program organized by the U.S. government for the most dire cases in Haiti than a sudden migrant influx,' said Randolph McGrorty, executive director of the Archdiocese of Miami's Catholic Legal Services. "Nevertheless, in our strategic planning, we are drawing measures for all possible contingencies.'
Broward County could use rental properties or work with banks to use foreclosed homes for emergency shelter, said Mayor Ken Keechl. At the stockade — the closed jail in Broward — officials recently made sure bottled water and toilet paper are on hand and the air conditioning works.
"We made sure everything was operational so at a moment's notice we could go in and throw on the switch and house people there,' Lamberti said.
'THIS IS WHAT WE DO'
McGrorty's office at Catholic Legal Services handles about 1,000 migrants a month, but he said the program could serve 2,000 or more if money is available.
"This is what we do, day in and day out, deal with the needs of immigrants after they arrive on our shores,' he said.
The Archdiocese's proposal for orphaned Haitian children would be modeled on Operation Pedro Pan, which 50 years ago brought more than 14,000 Cuban children to the U.S. as they fled communist rule.
The Florida Department of Children & Families has started contacting foster care agencies in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties to see how many Haitian orphans could be placed in state care, said DCF spokesman Joe Follick.
"If called upon, we will be ready to assist,' he said.
Our Kids, Miami-Dade County's private foster care and adoption agency, has alerted DCF to its interest in helping children orphaned by the quake.
"We have shelter beds available, along with therapists and support services ready to provide aid,' executive director Fran Allegra wrote in an e-mail.
DCF administrators have begun discussions with the federal government to see whether adults could be granted "humanitarian parole status' so they would be eligible for Medicaid benefits, but not citizenship.
"We will assess each case as individuals arrive and determine what state and federal assistance is available,' DCF Secretary George Sheldon wrote.
Federal agencies also are poised to deal with the possibility of a mass migration but say they are focused on rescue and relief mission.
As the relief operation continues, federal agencies will be gearing up under an existing crisis plan called "Operation Vigilant Sentry,' drawn up in 2003 to help prepare for any mass migration from the Caribbean.
It addresses interdicting migrants at sea, and processing and detention procedures. Homeland Security has not formally activated that plan yet, said spokesman Matthew Chandler.
But federal authorities do plan to move more than 400 detainees from the Krome detention center to make room for Haitian migrants, according to Homeland Security officials. It's unclear when the relocation would begin or where detainees now at Krome would go.
Homeland Security and Coast Guard officials downplayed the significance of the Krome decision, saying it is not a sign of any immediate need to deal with a migration from Haiti.
"It's prudent that we prepare for a contingency, but our focus is the preservation of life and delivery of humanitarian assistance,' said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Christopher T. O'Neil.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said last week: "A lot of people thought that a mass migration plan just pertained to a Cuban mass migration, but the plan is for any mass migration, which obviously would include Haiti.'
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met privately Saturday with Alvarez, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre. In a public appearance, she stressed that the federal government's decision to grant Temporary Protected Status will apply only to undocumented Haitian immigrants living in the U.S. before the earthquake. Authorities are concerned that there could be confusion, prompting some Haitians to take to the seas.
Broward Schools Superintendent Jim Notter said he hasn't been told to prepare for a mass migration. Still, the district has been identifying schools with large Haitian-American student populations and checking whether they could muster extra teachers and supplies.
"We presume that's where many of the Haitian students would be going, since they would be staying with relatives,' he said. "We're as prepared as we can be.'
'A HUGE STRAIN'
For now, the focus is on saving lives. Local governments, churches, the military and nonprofits are mobilizing to get food, medical supplies and experts to Haiti as quickly as possible.
"I think we have a little bit of time, but there's going to be a huge strain on the social services community,' said Catherine Penrod, chief executive officer of the Switchboard of Miami emergency hot line. "It's going to be a long time until things get back to normal there. Everyone agrees that this is something that we need to sit down and talk about, but right now people are focused on the basic needs in Haiti.'
As of Monday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security had not detected any Haitian migrants. Voice of America broadcast warnings in Creole over the weekend about the dangers of an ocean journey.
O'Neil of the Coast Guard noted that aid reaching the country and the heavy presence of U.S. Coast Guard and Pentagon ships may be deterring people from leaving.
Miami Herald staff writers Carol Marbin, Patricia Mazzei, Kathleen McGrory, Carol Rosenberg and Fred Tasker contributed to this report.