Pandemic calls for adjustments at hurricane shelters in South Florida

MIRAMAR, Fla. – Hurricane season is just two weeks away and emergency management agencies in South Florida are preparing for more than just a busy season -- they’re also adjusting their plans with the coronavirus pandemic in mind.

Emergency management officials are juggling the tasks of reducing the spread of COVID-19 while preparing for the fast-approaching hurricane season.

Coconut Palm Elementary School in Miramar is one of 33 hurricane shelters in Broward County.

There will likely be new rules at the shelters, like wearing a face mask and having your temperature taken at the door.

For months, emergency management officials have been telling residents it’s safer at home.

But if an evacuation order is issued because of a hurricane, they’ll now have to convince residents to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere.

“The pandemic has definitely brought us new challenges for hurricane season,” said Shannon Weiner, Director of Emergency Management for Monroe County.

Weiner said all four of the county’s hurricane shelters are at schools, and normally evacuees are housed in the cafeteria and auditorium.

But now, staff will have to space evacuees 6 feet apart, in line with social distancing measures.

“Under pandemic conditions, we’re going to have to expand out into maybe using the libraries or classrooms in the school or the cafeteria and the gym,” Weiner said.

Emergency management directors in Broward and Miami-Dade counties are facing similar challenges.

The directors in all three counties have been meeting virtually to share ideas.

“Another challenge would be we’re going to have to increase our staffing in the shelters, because we’re using more space and we’re spreading out. We need to increase the cleaning cycle and the disinfecting,” Weiner said.

Local 10 hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross recommends finding an alternative to shelters, because they only cover your basic needs.

“If you live along the beaches, maybe you have friends in West Broward, or West Dade, away from the water -- now’s the time to have that conversation and imagine if you did have to leave home what it would be like, how you would be safe together,” Norcross said.

Officials warn not to let the fear of being infected with COVID-19 prevent you from leaving your home during an evacuation order because your life could be at stake.

More people die from storm surge than wind.

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