Depending on where you live in the United States, storm season is just a part of life. Though each year brings potential danger, we’ve learned how to prepare for and deal with these disruptions as best as we can. In past years, for many of us, that just meant reviewing our family’s safety plan and ensuring our emergency kits are well-stocked and easily accessible. But 2020 has brought unforeseen challenges, making the 2020 hurricane season more challenging to face.
After months spent responding to the recent pandemic, we need to now add a new item to our ever-growing and changing to-do list. This storm season, it’s imperative you proactively create (or rethink your existing) hurricane safety plan with the virus in mind, including how to evacuate your family if needed.
Understand When to Stay Home and When to Evacuate
Recently, stay-at-home orders have been required for many Americans to slow the spread of the virus. While this simple change in behavior has saved thousands of lives, it has also left many of us feeling uncertain about when it’s safe to go out in public again.
Since it’s likely that social distancing measures will still be in place during hurricane season this summer, it’s even more important to clearly understand when to stay home and when to evacuate in the event of an emergency.
If Your Local Officials Announce Evacuation Orders, It’s Time to Go
It’s best to make sure this message is clear to everyone in your household. Misunderstandings or disagreements about emergency evacuation plans can cost you valuable, lifesaving time.
Decide on Your Evacuation Destination
If a hurricane, tropical storm or tornado hits your area during the 2020 storm season, the challenge will be protecting your family from two very different emergency situations at once: the storm and the virus. Having an evacuation plan in place, so you know exactly what to do if you’re in the path of a storm, is critical. Decide where you’ll stay and practice evacuating ahead of time, so you’re ready.
Some Shelters May Be Closed Because of the Virus
If you already have an evacuation plan in place, be sure to check with local officials for evacuation routes and available shelter spaces. Some mass shelters you’ve relied on in the past may even be closed due to the pandemic.
Find Disaster-Planning Resources
The federal government provides numerous disaster-planning resources, including specific guidance on family evacuation plans during the pandemic. You can find detailed checklists and instructions by visiting ready.gov. The National Center for Disaster Preparedness can take you step-by-step through the process of developing a disaster plan.
Before Evacuation Is Ordered, Get Packed and Be Ready
In the process of preparing for a storm, you’ll have gathered some of the items you need for an evacuation kit, like food, medicine, important documents and technology. But, if you need to evacuate, there are additional items and supplies that can help your family stay healthy and safe.
Build an Evacuation Kit With the Virus in Mind
Whether you choose to purchase a pre-assembled kit or build one yourself, recommended items for a helpful evacuation kit (with the virus in mind) include:
A supply of water
Blankets and bedding
Masks or cloth face coverings for everyone over the age of two
Non-perishable food items in case restaurants and stores are closed
Over-the-counter medications like pain relievers and fever reducers, recommended for managing the symptoms of COVID-19
Personal hygiene supplies, including soap and an alcohol-based (at least 60% alcohol) hand sanitizer
Personal technology and charging devices
Pet food and pet carriers
Surface cleaning supplies, such as disinfecting wipes and sprays to clean surfaces in restrooms, shelters and hotels
A complete list of recommended COVID-19 evacuation supplies can be found at ready.gov.
Know What to Expect at Emergency Shelters This Year
Officials are anticipating that emergency shelters will look very different during COVID-19. Many of the usual disaster response strategies, like teams of aid workers and food assistance, may now be considered dangerous. The virus could spread quickly in large evacuation shelters, so staving off the virus will take everyone doing their part.
If you need to stay at an emergency shelter, expect your temperature to be checked at the door. This is one way to ensure the safety of others taking shelter at the same location.
Per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Red Cross, cots should be spaced further apart. While this may mean fewer beds per shelter, it’s important to maintain social distancing recommendations.
If further distancing or quarantining is needed, there’s the possibility that hotels and college dormitories that have been vacated because of the virus will be available as temporary shelters.
Downloading the FEMA app will give you real-time access to the list of shelters that are open during a storm or disaster.
Stay Informed on Travel Restrictions to Other Cities and States
When a storm hits, you may need to evacuate quickly. Check with state and local health departments to see what restrictions are in place along your evacuation route and at your planned destination. Restrictions may change from day to day, so bookmark their websites to stay up to date.
In some states, health officials are discouraging interstate travel. A location that may have been a good evacuation destination in the past may no longer be one. Make sure you’re aware of local restrictions and be ready to adjust your plans if necessary.
While traveling during an evacuation, continue to follow the same guidelines for social distancing and personal protection you’ve been following since the beginning of the pandemic:
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
Maintain a physical distance of 6 feet or more from others
Use curbside service to get food from restaurants
Use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol when needed
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
Wear a mask or cloth face covering in public
Nothing Is More Important to Us Than You
We’re here to protect and keep you safe while meeting your health care needs. If you or a loved one need health care during this hurricane season, rest assured that we’ve taken extra precautions for your protection from COVID-19 in every facility. When you need in-person care, we’re ready to serve you.