By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins estimates that somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of the town’s permanent residents ignored calls to evacuate the island during Hurricane Irma and rode out the storm in their homes.
That was more than enough people to keep Hutchins’ department busy. The chief said his dispatchers were answering about 400 calls during their 10-hour shifts as Irma blew through, roughly 20 times the usual rate.
Often the calls were mostly about making a human connection and getting the reassurance that someone was on duty to respond in case the worst happened — which Hutchins and his officers were.
“Considering how many new residents we had here,” the chief said, “I think we did as well as we could.”
Hutchins said he drew on nearly four decades of law enforcement experience to help guide the town through the storm.
He stationed officers and employees in Town Hall the day before Irma hit so they’d be rested, in place and ready to go when the storm arrived. Two of his officers, one from Ohio and another from Connecticut, had never been close to a hurricane before, the chief said, so preparation was especially important for them.
Hutchins coordinated street patrol strategy with neighboring police departments to ensure access to bridges was controlled. And after Irma passed and the bridges opened, he made what seemed an unusual request to Boynton Beach officials.
“It’s something I’ve never done before,” Hutchins said. “I called Boynton and told them they should come and open their park. People needed a place to go, and I didn’t need them to be driving around. I could corral them in the park.”
With Boynton’s Oceanfront Park open, residents from both sides of the bridge who had been hunkering down for days had somewhere safe to go to release stress. Though Irma was a pain, the town had no significant incidents of human misbehavior or injury, and property damage was minimal.
“You fly by the seat of your pants,” Hutchins said. “I was pleased with the way things came out.”
Hutchins and his department won unanimous praise from the Town Commission during its meeting on Sept. 19, and so did Town Manager Jamie Titcomb.
“Jamie was always here,” Commissioner Gail Aaskov said. “He was working his butt off the whole time. I think we all appreciate that. I think he did a tremendous job.”