Home Emergency Management News EDM Wednesday Briefing: Reopening of Shuttered Buildings Poses Legionnaire's Risk
EDM Wednesday Briefing: Reopening of Shuttered Buildings Poses Legionnaire's Risk

EDM Wednesday Briefing: Reopening of Shuttered Buildings Poses Legionnaire's Risk

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Emergency and disaster management briefing for April 29, 2020: Fighting wildfires poses new challenges amid coronavirus social distancing requirements; new maps to be published by the NHC highlight the dangers of storm surge flooding; insurance claims reach $4.2 billion in aftermath of Australia's bushfires; a new modeling tool may help determine hospital and healthcare resilience following a natural disaster; severe weather has produced a higher number than average of tornadoes in April; firefighters urge new thought processes and mitigation efforts amid unprecedented wildfires as the climate continues changing and impacting weather; San Diego is focused on community safety with proactive evacuation planning for future wildfires during the ongoing pandemic; and health officials urge caution when opening shuttered buildings due to the potential for a Legionnaire's outbreak.

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1) Fire season is approaching in many areas across the United States amid the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. States and cities may not be as prepared as they had hoped as social distancing requirements slow mitigation work and politicians threaten to divert funds. The U.S. Forest Service has suspended controlled burns and in-person training for firefighters, while in California, money designated for fire prevention may be diverted to fighting the coronavirus and restarting the state's economy.

2) The National Hurricane Center (NHC) will begin publishing storm surge maps this summer to help warn Atlantic and Gulf coast regions about flooding. The new maps will be in color, with red areas highlighting the coastal cities and towns most likely to experience flooding from storm surge, along with the expected height of the surge. The maps are intended to raise public awareness regarding storm surge flooding — which can be deadly — and is often overlooked as people focus on hurricane paths and wind speeds.

3) The deadly and vastly destructive bushfires in Australia marked the country's worst natural disaster season on record. Insurance claims have already surpassed $4 billion, with a total of $2.2 billion already paid out. Still, rural areas are experiencing lengthy delays for assessments. Those delays are forcing many residents who lost their homes to be housed in caravans or sleep outside on their property, prompting calls for the government to implement long-term policy changes.

4) The ability of a community to recover from a natural disaster largely depends on its resilience. Key factors in that resilience are the hospitals, the community's overall healthcare system and the healthcare system's ability to become fully functional again after a disaster. A new modeling tool has been developed that could assist city planners and emergency managers with understanding what is involved in the full functionality and recovery of the healthcare system following a disaster. The list is long and includes hospital staff availability, passable roadways for ambulances, electrical power, the efficiency of patient transport to other facilities, and the protection of critical equipment.

5) Across the United States, severe weather in April alone has produced a higher-than-average number of tornadoes, which have killed 40 people nationwide. Various offices of the National Weather Service (NWS) have recorded a total of 236 tornadoes so far this April, with four of the twisters reaching EF-4 status. One tornado in Mississippi killed eight people, had winds of 190 mph and was 2.25 miles wide — the third widest on record. The average number of tornadoes in April is 155, with the majority of tornado activity occurring in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Illinois.

6) Changes in the climate and the current coronavirus pandemic are increasing the risk to firefighters on the front lines who are battling wildfires across the nation. Fire behavior is a product of three natural elements: fuel, topography and weather. Any change in weather — the most unpredictable element — can drastically impact a wildfire and create unprecedented, often life-threatening challenges never before encountered by firefighters. According to seasoned firefighters, new and innovative thought processes, mitigation techniques, and response plans are urgently needed to combat emerging conditions due to the changing climate and to keep firefighters safe amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

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7) San Diego is already addressing issues that may arise if an evacuation order is issued for a wildfire in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Red Cross, in conjunction with the North County Fire Department, is looking at evacuation orders and sheltering plans in the light of social distancing and how to keep residents safe. Officials are also strongly urging residents to have a plan in place for themselves and their families should they need to evacuate before a wildfire occurs, since evacuation orders overrule the stay-at-home order.

8) The reopening of buildings that house businesses, factories, government offices and schools that were quickly shut due to the coronavirus outbreak now pose a potential secondary impact on public health. Public officials are cautioning building owners to be aware of the potential for an outbreak of Legionnaire's disease unless water systems are thoroughly and adequately flushed and sanitized. Health officials noted that conditions in shuttered buildings are ripe for the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's disease because of the lack of chlorinated water running through water pipes, along with irregular temperature changes.

 

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.