How to stay calm and prepare for hurricanes in a pandemic
By Brian Rist
Given the impacts—particularly those on our economy and mental health—caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the early onset of hurricane season with the first named storm in May, it’s no wonder why so many of us are more “tropically depressed” this year than in any other year in recent memory. Just planning for potential disasters can be stressful, but if you start early and do it step by step, you can avoid feeling anxious, hopeless or overwhelmed.
There is no better authority to consult on this subject than the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It coordinates with state, and local officials, along with the private sector, to encourage hurricane planning that reflects public health guidelines. FEMA has updated guidelines for preparing for this hurricane season.
What to keep in mind for 2020:
- Planning may be different this year because of the need to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
- Give yourself more time than usual to prepare your emergency food, water and medicine supplies.
- When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations, staying at least six feet (about two arms’ length) from others and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
- If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Considerations on evacuating
Check with local officials about updated evacuation shelters for this year—your regular shelter may not be open this year due to COVID-19. If you evacuate to a community shelter, follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you are able, bring items such as hand sanitizer, cleaning materials, and two cloth face coverings per person.* Wash your hands regularly. Try to maintain a distance of at least six feet from people who aren’t members of your household.
Have enough food, water, and other supplies for every member of your family to last at least 72 hours (three days). Consider unique needs such as supplies for pets or seniors and prescription medications. In addition, it is recommended that you add two cloth face coverings per family member and cleaning items to your kit since you may not have access to these supplies for days or even weeks after the storm passes. A pre-stocked kit helps you evacuate faster.
Remain calm, kind and compassionate
Not everyone can afford to stock up adequately on necessities. When you shop, purchase only what you need so that we do not have empty shelves as we did when the COVID crisis began here in Southwest Florida.
Download the FEMA mobile app for disaster resources, weather alerts, and safety tips. The app, available in English and Spanish, provides a customizable checklist of emergency supplies, maps of open shelters and recovery centers, disaster survival tips, and weather alerts from the National Weather Service.
After a hurricane:
- Continue to use preventive actions like washing your hands and wearing a face covering during clean up or when returning home.
- Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you use a generator in a power outage.
- Contact your medical provider for treatment recommendations if you or a household member is ill. Accessing medical care may be more difficult during the pandemic.
- Continue any ongoing mental health treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. More can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.
The minute we turn on the news and meteorologists tell us that we are in the forecast cone, many panic immediately, rush to the grocery and supply stores, clear the shelves of staple goods and jam gas stations. This year, with the unsettling influence of COVID-19, we may see more of that behavior. But you can remain calm and get through any major storm safe and sound if you have a plan in place, including a pre-stocked kit.
* Children under two years of age and people who have trouble breathing should not wear cloth face coverings.