Dual Dilemma Emergency Plan Taking Shape as COVID-19 Gains Momentum During 2020 Hurricane Season
As the 2020 hurricane season closes in on the peak months of August and September, emergency management officials are solidifying strategies to help keep Florida residents safe from the effects of both disease and natural disaster. A recent AAA survey indicates that a significant number of area residents are concerned with how they will stay out of harm’s way during a hurricane while keeping COVID-19 at bay.
The AAA survey was conducted in late May and found that 42% of Floridians are less likely to evacuate due to COVID-19 concerns and that 80% who would evacuate, would leave for a Category 2 hurricane or greater. Also according to the survey, more than a quarter of residents (29%) say they would not leave their homes if they were warned to evacuate.
Building Community Confidence through Careful Consideration
Emergency management officials throughout the state are outlining shelter plans for their specific areas and have state recommendations to use as a guide.Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s director of emergency management, said in a recent Cabinet meeting that Florida hopes to have access to rapid tests by August or September, and if it does “we will help supply rapid testing for people entering or exiting shelters.”
Moskowitz also stated that Florida has a substantial stock of personal protective equipment including 10 million masks, 5 million gloves, a million face shields, 5,000 thermometers, 200 negative-pressure machines and a contract with Honeywell for 12 million more masks.
While in years past evacuees are given 20 square feet of space inside a shelter, to accomplish adequate social distancing, Moskowitz said the state is recommending 60 square feet per person.
The shelter strategy includes utilizing vacant hotel and motel rooms, and the American Red Cross is reportedly securing dormitories and a higher number of large spaces so evacuees can be spread out. In keeping with state guidelines, there will be health screening and temperature checks to get into shelters.
According to a Red Cross official, people with temperatures or other virus risk factors will be accommodated in a separate location with access to medical help. Food will be served in boxes instead of cafeteria-style, and the Red Cross has already stockpiled face coverings and disinfectants for shelter cleaning.
To prepare for the possibility of evacuation, the American Red Cross provides the following tips on creating a comprehensive plan:
Make a Contact Plan – Identify ways to contact each other, alternate meeting locations, and an out-of-town contact person. Anticipate limited cell phone service.
Know Your Evacuation Route – Visit FloridaDisaster.org to track the recommended evacuation route for your region.
Choose Multiple Destinations – Identify several places you will go in an emergency, such as a friend’s home, in another town, a hotel or shelter. Choose destinations in different directions so you have options during an emergency.
Research Shelter Availability – Check with local officials about the availability of evacuation shelters. Your regular shelter may not open this year due to COVID-19. If you evacuate to a community shelter, follow the latest guidelines from the CDC.
Prepare your Pets – Identify a place to stay that will accept pets. Most public shelters allow only service animals.
Prepare your Vehicle for Evacuation – Have your vehicle professionally inspected so it’s ready for evacuation. Plan to take one car per family to reduce congestion and delay.
Gas Up – If an evacuation seems likely, ensure you have a full tank of gas. Do not hoard gasoline you do not need. The pre-storm surge in gasoline demand often leads to temporary fuel outages before the storm. After the storm, be aware that gas stations may be closed or unable to pump gas due to structural damage, or fuel or power outages. As a result, begin looking for a refueling option when your tank is half full.
Taking Your Safety Plan Several Steps Further
Along with a well-stocked emergency supply kit, The American Red Cross recommends the following life-saving strategies:
Get trained in first aid and CPR, and know where the closest defibrillator is located. Emergency response mechanisms may be overwhelmed in the aftermath of a hurricane. Being trained to care for someone in medical distress while waiting for professional help, could be lifesaving.
Be sure to make individualized preparedness plans for family members or neighbors who need extra assistance.
Create a personal support network that can help you plan and provide assistance if a disaster happens. Remember not to depend on just one person – include a minimum of three people in your network.
Practice your disaster plans with your personal support network at least twice a year. Keep a map in your car. You may not have access to maps on your cell phones or computers during a disaster.
For more information on creating hurricane preparation and evacuation plans visit www.ready.gov.
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