Effort Underway To Prevent Mass Exodus From Haiti
Michele Gillen

An unprecedented air, land and sea effort is underway to prevent a mass migration from Haiti, a fluid multi-agency game plan detailed in what's called "Operation Vigilant Sentry."

"The way you are seeing the federal response now in the pouring of resources down there, I think they are looking at it as...failure is not an option. We are going to get the island of Haiti back up and running," Miami Dade's Director of Emergency Management, Curtis Sommerhoff, told CBS4 I-Team Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen in a one-on-one interview.

Sources tell Gillen there will be more than three times the military presence in the seas circling Haiti compared to one week ago, and while the goal is to save lives and prevent a mass exodus, back-up shelter plans on US soil are being discussed on the hour.

"It's a fluid situation, it changes by the day," says Sommerhoff.

Emergency response plans that would be a far cry, officials tell Gillen from the emergency shelter set up in response to the Mariel Sealift, with a tent city sprouting under I-95.

"Tent city - it sounds like a nasty word, and it wouldn't be our choice here. We have a number of assets around the county that we would prefer to use from vacant hospitals and schools and churches,' explains Sommerhoff.

Homestead airforce base and county property neighboring it is slated for consideration for accommodating large numbers of refugees because of its acreage and storage facilities. Other locations are on the table as well.

"Guantanamo Bay is always a location that is discussed. There are other locations that have been discussed in the U.S., but there is no plan to bring people to the U.S.," says Lt. Commander Chris O'Neil of the Homeland Security Task force SE.

O'Neil stressed to Gillen that all eyes are on preventing a mass exodus and saving lives and that many lessons have been learned since the Mariel Sealift and the accompanying tent cities.

Can there be a repeat?

"I don't think so.There was no mass migration plan then or in 1994 but there is a mass migration plan in place now. It's practiced, it's been updated, and it's been reviewed. We are ready to implement the plan if necessary. But we are a long way from that happening," said O'Neil, who echoed a message from the U.S. government for Haitians to have hope..

"[But] Help is on the way, stay safe, stay home, help rebuild your country."