As if we all didn’t have enough on our plate this year – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is alerting us that we can expect an above-normal 2020 hurricane season, with 3 to 6 major hurricanes. The season runs from June 1 through November 30, so we have just dipped a toe in the water so far. CoreLogic’s annual Storm Surge Report estimates that yearly 7.4 million single and multi-family homes are at risk of storm surge – potential damage that could be intensified by the pandemic and the uncertain economy.
Emergency preparation for hurricanes is a vital priority every year, particularly for those who live in the southeast and in Atlantic coastal areas. This year, the pandemic poses additional planning challenges. NOAA says:
“Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more. With tornado season at its peak, hurricane season around the corner, and flooding, earthquakes and wildfires a risk year-round, it is time to revise and adjust your emergency plan now,” said Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA. “Natural disasters won’t wait, so I encourage you to keep COVID-19 in mind when revising or making your plan for you and your loved ones, and don’t forget your pets. An easy way to start is to download the FEMA app today.”
Vox offers a deeper dive on some of the challenges that a hurricane could pose: Imagine Hurricane Katrina during a pandemic. They note that response systems are already on overload and that evacuation and sheltering would have additional complications, suggesting that decisions about when to evacuate vs when to shelter in place may need to change:
Emergency evacuations are typically called for based on the expected impact of the hurricane, and may involve large populations moving to concentrated locations like emergency shelters or hotels — or leaving the area entirely. Even without a disease outbreak, evacuation decisions are always difficult, both practically and politically. The decision process should be altered during an epidemic because usual evacuation risks (traffic accidents, for example) will have to be balanced against the risk of increasing disease transmission, which could have longer-term effects than the hurricane itself.
The pandemic makes clearly communicating exactly who should evacuate even more important: Those in the storm surge zone should go while others should be encouraged to shelter in place and be prepared for wind, rain, and power outages.
Emergency prep is important up and down the coast, including in new England. While hurricanes are a rarer occurrence in New England, the region still thinks back on the devastation of 1938, a hurricane which killed more than 700 people. Meteorologist Matthew Cappucci wrote a fascinating report of the great New England hurricane of 1938, which includes projections of damage that could occur today if the region were to experience a similar storm.
If you already have a disaster or a hurricane plan for your family or your business, update it to encompass the realities that the pandemic has imposed on your local area. It’s even more important than ever to have a checklist and to store supplies for up to a week. In addition, expand your time horizon – you may need additional time to execute any evacuations.
One preparation recommendation from nearly all safety officials: download the FEMA app and check your state or local emergency management authority for any available apps. Red Cross has a variety of excellent emergency prep apps.
We’re reprinting some tips about hurricane prep during a pandemic from the Houston Office of Emergency Management, and also include links for other prep tools and guides.
- Understand that your planning may be different this year because of the need to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
- Give yourself more time than usual to prepare your emergency food, water, and medicine supplies. Home delivery is the safest choice for buying disaster supplies; however, that may not be an option for everyone. If in-person shopping is your only choice, take steps to protect your and others’ health when running essential errands.
- 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 pickup, if available.
- Pay attention to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, including potential shelters for your pets.
- If you need to evacuate, prepare a “go kit” with personal items you cannot do without during an emergency. Include items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer, or bar or liquid soap if not available, and two cloth face coverings for each person. Face covers should not be used by children under the age of 2. They also should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
- When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about 2 arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
- If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additional hurricane prep tools
- FEMA: Preparing for Hurricane Season During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- CDC: Preparing for Hurricanes During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- WBUR: Preparing For A Triple Whammy: Hurricanes, Pandemic And A Loss Of Public Confidence
- How to prepare for hurricane season
- Ready.gov Hurricanes
- Sun Sentinel (Florida) Hurricane Prep Guide
- State of Florida – Preparing for the 2020 Hurricane Season