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Emergency management leaders juggle hurricane season preparations, COVID-19 precautions

With Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine brewing, officials are making sure the Tampa Bay area is prepared for any storm.

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida emergency management leaders are getting ready for a hurricane season that could be challenging.

The first test run could come with Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine, which could possibly impact parts of Florida this weekend into early next week. There is no need to worry about it right now, however.

"We are in the cone! We are in the cone and will continue to be until we figure out where the storm is going. When we get in that cone, we're five days out, we're 120 hours out and we begin preparing," Sarasota County's Emergency Management Director Ed McCrane said.

Each county started outlining what would happen months in advance, but the coronavirus pandemic changed some plans.

"Pre-pandemic, we wanted everybody to come together. We would put people in the EOC or in a shelter. Now we have to keep them spread out.  We are making sure in all of our planning efforts as we respond to COVID-19 that we maintain social distancing and follow CDC guidelines," Polk County's Emergency Management Director Paul Womble said. 

Shelters across the Tampa Bay area have been looked at already. Officials say capacity will be lower. All beds have to be spaced out and extra 50-60 feet. Masks will be required to enter shelters and they recommend you have sanitizer and snacks.

"We'll open more shelters so people can follow CDC guidelines to spread out. We'll have PPE available. Masks will be required and temperature checks," Womble said.

"Room if we maxed out is 13,047. Mathematically that's a little bit more than 35 percent of normal capacity. So capacity is at a considerable low," said Steve Litschauer, Manatee County's Emergency Management chief.

Shelter capacity is cut in more than half. That means it should be your last option if you need to evacuate.

Emergency management is urging everyone to have their plan in place now. Once a storm hits, it might be too late.

"I think about evacuating locally, that means finding someone, a friend, family member, especially a family member during this time that's in a nonevacuation zone," Ashley Johnson with Pinellas County's Emergency Management said.

"I'll be more comfortable at home. But go get your supplies now if you haven't already. Don't wait until the last minute. You think the toilet paper went quickly because of COVID, just wait until people start buying up all the water," McCrane said.

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