According to CNN, the Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 and covers the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. With sustained winds of 74mph or higher, hurricanes can cause severe damage to properties, communities, and human life. On top of the typical dangers of storms, this year, individuals also have to consider the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The COVID-19 coronavirus adds a new layer of worry to hurricane season, especially since experts predict 2020 to bring multiple storm surges to the Atlantic coast. Social distancing has never been a factor in prior emergency plans, especially when it comes to emergency evacuations and community shelters.
NPR says, “There's now a chance for one disaster to layer upon another. Many lives could be lost: first, from powerful winds, storm surges, and flooding, and then through the spread of the coronavirus in cramped public shelters following mass evacuations. Evacuees might pass the virus to friends and relatives who take them in, or get infected themselves in those new surroundings.”
How to Prepare for a Hurricane During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Before making plans to shelter-in-place or evacuate, it’s essential to know the difference between a hurricane watch and warning. The National Hurricane Center defines these terms as:
A hurricane watch indicates the possibility that a region could experience hurricane conditions within 48 hours.
A hurricane warning indicates that sustained winds of at least 74 mph are expected within 36 hours.
Knowing how a hurricane could affect your area will allow individuals to weigh their risks about whether to stay home or to evacuate to a friend’s or relative’s home, a safe rental unit, or even a local shelter. Many emergency managers are also making plans, and several organizations along the Gulf Coast are trying to line up more shelters in anticipation of a higher number of evacuees.
The Red Cross is also planning, and Trevor Riggen, a Red Cross senior vice president, says, “They are already scouting hotels or dormitories, and a higher number of large spaces so evacuees can spread out. There will be health screening and temperature checks to get into shelters. Food will be served in boxes instead of cafeteria-style, and the Red Cross has already stockpiled face coverings and disinfectants for shelter cleaning.”
Reevaluate Your Emergency Plan
Now is a good time to take out your emergency response plan and make revisions that take into account the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Reassess your plan:
Download the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Readiness Kit, which helps families create preparedness plans and build emergency kits by recognizing hazards that are most likely to occur in their area.
Have a NOAA weather radio all hazards on hand for the latest broadcasts.
Choose evacuation routes that are less likely to be used by large crowds of individuals.
If you plan to stay at a community shelter, bring PPE and supplies, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, soap, pillows, blankets, towels, water, and non-perishable food.
If you’re able to rent a unit far enough away from the hurricane, make sure to bring PPE and supplies. Pack enough food and drinks, and be sure to fill up your gas tank to limit unnecessary stops on the road during your journey.
If you're planning to shelter-in-place, make sure to have all the essential items on hand for at least one week. Give yourself extra time to order these items online instead of heading to the store. Include non-perishable food, water, medicine, first aid kit, PPE, disinfectant supplies, batteries, pet food, books, puzzles, games for children, cell phone chargers, and special dietary needs. Place these items into an emergency go-bag in case you need to evacuate.
Communication is critical: make sure your family knows how to contact one another, and how everyone plans to meet up at the designated reunification spot.
Set aside time to talk to children and find out how they feel about the hurricane and the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. These two events can be extremely traumatic for children of all ages.
CDC Releases New Guidance for Hurricanes During the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic
The CDC recently released helpful tips to reduce stress and stay safe while planning for a natural disaster:
Protect yourself and others when filling prescriptions by limiting in-person visits to the pharmacy. Sign up for mail-order delivery or call in your prescription ahead of time and use drive-through windows or curbside pickups.
When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
Follow guidance from your local public health or emergency management officials on when and where to shelter.
Know what to do if someone in your family or the household you are staying with becomes sick with COVID-19.
After a hurricane, it’s not unusual for rats, mice, and other pests to try to get into your home or building. Be aware that with restaurant and commercial closures related to COVID-19, there are already reports of increased rodent activity as they try to seek other sources of food. Follow recommendations for keeping pests out of your home.
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic makes planning for a hurricane more complicated. But, there’s still time to get ahead of an impending storm. Planning, getting in touch with local emergency management organizations, and revising your emergency plans are the best ways to stay safe during this unprecedented time.
The Institute for Childhood Preparedness can help prepare your organization for hurricane season. Our award-winning trainers offer emergency preparedness, response, and recovery training and emergency plan development and review to help revise your emergency response plans. Schedule an emergency preparedness training for your early childhood program, K-12 school, after school program, Head Start Program, camp, House of Worship, or Government organization today: Click here.
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