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Hurricane Season Preparation during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hurricane Season Preparation during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 every year. Typically, the period of early to mid-September is when storms are most prevalent.

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Because I’ve been a Florida resident for nearly 30 years, hurricanes have impacted my life many times. I’ve needed to evacuate my home on different occasions and experienced property damage that included a roof replacement. Due to widespread post-storm power outages, I have lived at home for weeks, using a generator as my sole source of power.

Hurricane Irma, which made landfall on September 10, 2017, is a good example of the difficulty a major hurricane can present. This storm was initially forecasted to make landfall in southeast Florida in the Miami area, but then it shifted and was forecasted to make landfall on the west coast of Florida.

Hurricane Irma was a massive and powerful storm. At times, Hurricane Irma had winds that reached Category 5 strength.

Category 5 storms have sustained winds of 157 mph. At one point, Hurricane Irma had gusts up to 199 mph.

Hurricane Irma ultimately ended up making landfall in the United States as a Category 4 storm. It was responsible for 134 deaths and the loss of power for 6.7 million utility customers.

Hurricane Irma Showed the Necessity of Emergency Planning

From an emergency management perspective, Hurricane Irma was a nightmare. The strength and size of this storm put millions of people on edge and demonstrated the importance of having a hurricane plan in place.

For example, many gas stations in the Fort Lauderdale and Miami areas had gasoline outages, which affected me as well. Due to the intensity of the storm, nearly 7 million people had to evacuate their homes and search for safer shelter as the storm approached.

At one point, Hurricane Irma’s projected path was directly through my hometown as it was forecasted to strike land as a Category 4 or 5 storm. I had not planned to evacuate, but as one of the millions of Floridians who needed to evacuate at the last minute due to the shift in Irma’s path.

But I quickly learned that every hotel north of my home was sold out. The nearest hotel I could find available along Interstate 75 was north Atlanta, which was over 525 miles from my home.

Hurricane Irma was responsible for the largest hurricane evacuation in U.S. history, and nearly every coastal county had evacuation orders. Where gasoline was available for evacuees in the state, there were typically long lines. Fortunately, it was not the dangerous scenario that Texas experienced during Hurricane Rita in 2005 where millions fled as a result of the coming storm and thousands ran out of gas on a 100-mile traffic jam.

This Year’s Hurricane Season Is Forecast to Be Above Average

This year’s hurricane season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected to be an above-normal season with 13-19 named storms. This forecast includes six to 10 hurricanes with three to six major hurricanes possible. To date, this forecast is supported by the record-breaking more than seven tropical systems that have developed before August 1.

The number of named tropical systems before August 1 has already exceeded 2005, the most active hurricane season on record. However, there has not been a major landfall event involving a tropical system to this point in the hurricane season.

Hurricane Preparations This Year Will Be Different Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic presents some major concerns for emergency management this year. If a hurricane threatens the United States this season, it is likely to make landfall in an area with shelters that are unable to operate at full capacity. Hospitals and healthcare systems are already strained in terms of resources and personnel due to coronavirus patient care.

Another challenge involves public transportation. If mass evacuations of coastal areas are needed, there will be an inability to maintain social distance. These potential challenges are especially true for Florida, where the state has now surpassed New York in the total number of coronavirus cases and is number two in the nation behind California.

Hurricane Preparation Is More Important than Ever This Year

For those residents who are at risk of being impacted by a hurricane this season, it is essential for steps to be taken in advance. A well-designed plan must be in place for people and their homes that could be impacted by a hurricane. Some recommendations include:

  • Developing a written plan with household members of how an emergency will be addressed, based on the specific needs of a family and communicating with extended family in a different location that could serve as an evacuation destination. Staying at a family member’s home instead of a hotel if an evacuation is necessary may be a way to avoid the risk of exposure to the coronavirus in public places, provided that family members are not at a higher risk for the coronavirus.
  • Obtaining more water, non-perishable foods and medicines in advance of a major storm. If a hurricane approaches an area, public facilities such as gas stations, pharmacies, and grocery stores will be filled with people. As a result, social distancing may not be possible, which increases the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
  • Keeping a “go kit” in an easily accessible location. If an evacuation is necessary, additional supplies will be useful. For example, supplies should be stocked and available for transport in a “go kit” that includes cloth face coverings, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and medical insurance cards.
  • Planning in advance where to safely go for shelter. If it is necessary to go to a shelter during a hurricane, the Centers for Disease Control has public shelter recommendations to help reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
  • Taking advantage of technology. To assist with communicating with family even if the power is out from a hurricane and to remain up to date on a hurricane’s track, the Red Cross Emergency App is a useful resource.
  • Helping those who need special assistance. For people who need assistance leaving their home or want to share transportation in the case of an evacuation, it is important to develop a plan for their transportation now with family, friends, or caretakers.

With any disaster, preparation and advance planning can reduce the stress on everyone impacted by a hurricane. Although the current coronavirus pandemic adds complications to this year’s hurricane season, additional effort now will help residents and emergency managers to better mitigate the complexity of hurricane season.

About the Author

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University with over twenty years of experience in the homeland security field. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Central America, and Europe on the topics of human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, police responses to domestic terrorism and various topics in policing. Most recently, he presented at the International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, police stress management, homeland security, contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.