With four hurricanes targeting Florida in the last four years, nothing would prevent one or more storms from doing so in the hurricane season that started today, potentially causing evacuations, needs for shelters and yet more shut-downs of the economy, all on top of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Flagler County’s emergency and public health officials are preparing for just that possibility: an unprecedented battle on two fronts.
Most of the pandemic-induced changes will directly affect residents who’ll need to seek shelter in public shelters, which will be more strictly regulated and policed for health indicators and social distancing, though all residents are being advised to add pandemic-related preparations to their storm kits, such as masks, sanitizers, and having a plan on where to go should evacuation orders be issued.
The week-long sales tax “holiday” on hurricane-preparation items began on Friday and runs through June 4. FEMA’s storm-prep checklist includes flashlights, batteries, portable radios, multi-purpose tools, emergency fuel, personal hygiene items, cell-phone chargers, emergency contact lists and copies of personal documents, along with supplies of water, food and medication for three days to two weeks, depending on different scenarios involving evacuation or riding out the disaster at home.
If evacuation orders are issued for any of Flagler’s evacuation zones, such as the barrier island or the canal neighborhoods, emergency officials want them followed no matter what. “Regardless of your fears of Covid 19, you truly, truly, truly need to evacuate,” says Jonathan Lord, Flagler’s emergency management chief, who hosted his annual hurricane season roundtable for local media this afternoon. He said he has been getting anecdotal information elsewhere in the state about people “second-guessing whether they’ll still evacuate,” which concerns him.
If people are planning to forego shelters or evacuation elsewhere, he said now is the time to invest in reinforcements for homes such as shutters, though he stresses that the better alternative is to evacuate.
Flagler is preparing its usual shelters: Rymfire Elementary for special needs, meaning those with medical conditions, Bunnell Elementary, Buddy Taylor Middle and Wadsworth Elementary’s combined campus, then, if necessary, Belle Terre Elementary and Matanzas High School. Their capacities will be significantly reduced. Under pre-Covid standards, shelters operated on the assumption that every individual had to have 20 square feet of space. Under Covid rules, every individual must have 60 square feet. The altered capacities look like this:
|Belle Terre Elementary|
|Buddy Taylor Middle-Wadsworth Elementary|
|Old Kings Elementary|
“There will be marklers, circles, to designate family-unit spaces,” Bob Snyder, who heads the Flagler Health Department, said. The health department runs the special needs shelter at Rymfire, where it will have more volunteers than usual shoul;d there be such an emergency. “We’ll be taking temperature checks, I’m sure, of people that are entering the shelter. We’ll be limiting family members if we can to only necessary family members to accompany clients. There’ll be special attention to disinfecting and cleaning, mask-wearing will become the norm. Those are just four examples right off the bat we’ll be paying closer attention to.”
It’s not yet clear what alternate special needs shelter there will be, should Rymfire fill up. Snyder, Lord and school officials are taking walk-throughs of campuses on June 4, after which that question may be settled.
At all the shelters, plans are being developed to segregate Covid-19-positive individuals from the rest of the population. “Obviously our schools are quite large and we would do our best to keep them in separate areas within the facilities and try not to share facilities such as restrooms,” Lord said. However, “nothing can be guaranteed. There may be people that are asymptomatic, they don’t know, we don’t know.” And shelters will not have the ability to segregate air flow, as is the case at hospitals. In other words, people will be breathing the same air conditioned air as Covid-19-positive individuals.
Officials are planning on a new approach to diminishing shelter populations immediately after the disaster.
“We have only a certain amount of shelters available, particularly schools, for the pre-storm and during the storm,” Lord said. “But after the storm we don’t have to worry about strong structures, so what we would do is we’d try to decentralize our sheltering, which is a little bit different than we’ve done in the past. In the Covid world we would try to decentralize our sheltering as quick as possible so we could spread out folks closer to their communities. We’ve been working on plans anyway, even before Covid, about the utilization of our community centers more often than they’ve been used, as localized she;lters. So post-storm, if they’re in good shape, we would decentralize and move people closer to their neighborhoods and use other facilities, not just schools.”
With more facilities, a “centralized Covis-19” facility could be among them–where people who are Covid-positive would go. “But again, the big thing is going to be that we have to assume that people may have Covid-19 whether they know it or not, whether we know it or not. So we’re going to have to treat everybody as if they may have Covid-19, and continue with the additional personal protective equipment requirements, just to make sure we can do our best to protect the public.”
Regardless where a person is sheltering, the wearing of masks will be required. Masks will be made available to people who don’t have them. Paramedics will be present at all the shelters.
Forecasters expect a more active hurricane season than norma. Lord says the forecasts can be meaningless, in that even if it were to be a quieter than usual season, it only takes one major storm to wreak havoc, and require a massive, proper response.
“We’ll have to see what the season does,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz told the News Service of Florida last week. “They say it’s going to be an active season. Remember, we had 18 named storms last year. And we almost got (Hurricane) Dorian. So, you know, we’ll just have to see what it brings us.”
Arthur, which threatened the Carolinas as a tropical storm this month, started checking off the list of storm names for the 2020 season, which will last on the calendar from Monday through Nov. 30. Then came Tropical Storm Bertha, which formed off the Carolinas on Wednesday.
Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration became the latest organization to forecast an above-active hurricane season, with 13 to 19 named storms, of which six to 10 should reach hurricane status. The range is consistent with other forecasters that presume a La Nina weather pattern rushing warm water into the Atlantic.
In its forecast, NOAA also pointed to warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, reduced vertical wind shear, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds and an enhanced west African monsoon wind system. All are factors for above-average storm activity.
“Similar conditions have been producing more active seasons since the current high-activity era began in 1995,” a NOAA news release said.
Mixing the forecasts with the virus, the state has created a reserve of 10 million face masks, 1 million face shields, and 5 million gloves.
Hurricane season continues through Nov. 30.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.
Add Riots to these two , and you have a complete recipe for TOTAL DESTRUCTION !!!!!!
Have a Nice Day