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Hurricane preparedness teams have challenges in the New Normal

From social distancing in shelters to keeping frontline workers healthy, preparations have plenty of layers in a pandemic

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Local, state, and federal emergency management teams have been adjusting their hurricane plans to take into account the current New Normal.

Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales and Emergency Manager Juan Mestas said they have been preparing for months.

"Obviously, the rules of social distancing are challenging during these kinds of emergencies," Morales said.

There are a range of considerations that will be different this season — from maintaining social distancing during sandbag and food distribution events — to pre-storm staging for “landfall” teams.

"The firefighters, the public works guys, the police, how do you now distance them in enough locations so they are safe from a COVID perspective but they can quickly be assembled to respond as soon as the storm leaves," Morales said.

There is also a concern about the current spread of COVID-19 among frontline workers from police, fire, and public works departments.

"Making sure that we can protect them, to keep them as healthy as possible, because the last thing you want to have is, as we are responding to a hurricane, lose a chunk of your workforce and all of a sudden you ability your ability to respond to the hurricane," Morales said.

They are also working with the county and the state to map out a plan for evacuation shelters, which is a priority.

Because of the pandemic and the safety of lots of people being in once place, Mestas said they would need about twice the normal space they usually would require for each evacuee.

“The people will be pre-screened. At schools, maybe they will be using classrooms to separate families,” Mestas said.

They are also considering creating seniors only shelters with special protocols to isolate that vulnerable group most at risk of coronavirus.

“Even elderly who are not sick or don’t have COVID, you are not going to want to put them with the general population. We are going to have to have enough volunteers - Red Cross workers. It is going to involve a significant level of manpower and infrastructure to have the social distancing level to try and reduce the risk. It is going to be no easy feat, Morales said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises that those who plan on evacuating to a shelter pack hand sanitizer, cleaning materials and two face coverings per person. Once there, wash your hands regularly while maintaining social distancing. Check out more guidelines from FEMA.

Coronavirus testing sites would also be impacted by an approaching storm - those would close, and re-openings would depend on degree of storm-related damage and debris.

FEMA also urges for people in areas that could be impacted by a hurricane to leave plenty of time to get essential supplies given social distancing procedures that will have to be followed at check out and in-store retail capacity.

[RELATED: Download Local 10′s Hurricane Survival Guide: Includes COVID-19 Shelter Protocol]


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