SARASOTA, Fla. — “My biggest piece of advice to people at home is to prepare now. Don’t wait until we have a hurricane already on our doorstep,” said the Chief of Sarasota County Emergency Management Ed McCrane.
Even as the nation deals with a pandemic, we must also be prepared to face hurricane season.
“Make a plan, talk to your family members about what that plan is, check out your home, put together a kit and then stay informed,” McCrane said.
Some forecasters believe it will be a busy hurricane season this year.
Hurricane season in Florida begins in June and lasts through November.
There are so many things to do to get ready for a hurricane already, but add COVID-19 to the mix and you’ve got some extra steps to think about.
“The shelter operations are going to be a little different,” McCrane said. “There will be a lot more space in between people. We'll be enforcing social distance standards within the shelter buildings, more hand washing, and more increased sanitation.”
But with having to account for social distancing, McCrane says they lose capacity.
“We will not be able to hold as many people as we normally could have before COVID-19 came into play,” McCrane said.
As usual, they have 11 shelters set up to be opened. McCrane says evacuation centers should be treated as a last resort.
“As many people as possible that can stay with friends or family should do so,” McCrane said. “It will not only give you a more comfortable setting, it’ll give us the opportunity to house those that really have no other recourse.”
If you have nowhere else to go, McCrane says expect to go through a medical screening when you show up at a shelter and you’ll be requested to wear a mask.
“I think that COVID-19 is going to present some challenges to whoever gets a hurricane this year in the state of Florida, but we are prepared and we’re continuing to look for opportunities and ideas to make it even safer,” McCrane said.
There are ways for you to get prepared as well, by putting together a hurricane disaster kit.
“This is the time to prepare now, not to wait till the last minute,” McCrane said.
“Everybody saw what happened with COVID-19 and how everything in the stores vanished off the shelves very quickly. It's going to be just the same way when we have a hurricane. It may be different products, but food items and water will go quickly.”
And with the new added challenges of possible exposure to COVID-19 in a shelter, don’t forget to add some masks and hand sanitizer to your disaster kit.
McCrane also recommends people do a wind mitigation study, or inspection of their home.
“Most home inspectors will do that. It’s a couple hundred dollars but it’s worth it because you get an idea of what your home can handle as far as hurricane resistance,” McCrane said. “You can also save a lot of money on your homeowners insurance. Then that will help you determine whether you can stay home.”
But if you don’t have the means to spend that kind of money, here’s a good tip, “People that live in homes built after 2002 under the Florida building code have a good opportunity to stay home if they’ve protected their doorways and their windows with hurricane shutters or impact glass,” McCrane said.
But, if you live in a mobile home, RV, or on a boat McCrane says you will have to evacuate.
Although these are scary and uncertain times, McCrane wants the residents of Sarasota to know that he and his team are ready for what’s to come.
“Even in the midst of the COVID-19 response that we've been doing, we've been doing a lot of advance planning,” McCrane said. “Thinking about how this situation changes our emergency operations center staffing, the evacuation center staffing, the equipment that we will need to help keep the public safe, and in our messaging."
Over in Manatee County the Chief of Emergency Management, Steve Litschauer, says they are working to finalize their hurricane preparedness plans. Litschauer says they have 24 emergency shelters at the ready to open. They will phase in openings as needed.
Litschauer says they will also be screening people as they come into the shelter.
“We will practice social distancing, but our main message to people is evacuation shelters should be a refuge of last resort,” Litschauer said.
He also says they’ve been ordering thousands of dollars’ worth of masks, gloves, sanitizers, and forehead thermometers for the people who come to the shelters
“We’re also order supplies and figuring out how many N-95 masks we need for the workers,” Litschauer said.
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