South Florida preps for a second hurricane season during COVID era

Planning for evacuation shelters is tricky, even as the pandemic winds down, emergency management officials say.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Broward County Emergency Management Division’s distribution center is stocked with many of the things needed for both COVID-19 relief and storm response.

But now as we enter a second hurricane season amid COVID-19, there are still challenges local officials face.

Terry Hodges says Broward’s emergency management department is stocked up on supplies and personal protective equipment, including face shields, hand sanitizer and infrared thermometers for screening at the shelters.

Planning for shelters is still tricky, though, even as the pandemic winds down.

“One of the things that we did was that we changed the capacity of the shelters to allow for social distancing,” Hodges said. “So essentially what’s happened is our normal capacity has been reduced by two-thirds.”

Frank Rollason, the head of Miami-Dade’s emergency management says they’ll be doubling the number of shelters — and, like in Broward, isolating those with COVID or COVID symptoms.

“There will be people who come and say they have COVID or they have COVID symptoms, with their family, and we’ll isolate them into different classrooms,” he said.

Monroe County EOC director Shannon Weiner says they’ll be continuing to use four high schools as shelters.

“We’ll continue with the isolation areas for those that may become sick while at the shelter,” she said. “And we will recommend masks for those that are not vaccinated. But there will not they will not be mandatory.”

The challenge is also convincing people it’s safe to come to a shelter.

“I think it’d be a false promise on our side to tell them they’re going to be safe from COVID, cause I don’t think any of us are safe from COVID,” Rollason said. “We take the precautions that the CDC recommends that we do and you sort of have to weigh what’s the best option for you and your family to make a decision.”

Like many of us, emergency managers have been working from home during the pandemic, but they say that won’t affect their abilities during a storm.

That’s not the only change from the pandemic.

Monroe County had to revamp its re-entry decals.

“We’ve got found that during re-entry under COVID, that there was counterfeiting of the residential re-entry sticker going on from the Key Largo area,” Weiner said.

Every resident needs to get a brand new decal through their tax collector’s office. The stickers have new colors, shapes and are barcoded for scanning at a re-entry checkpoint.

No matter what the hurricane season ends up bringing, the emergency departments say they’re prepared.

“If your plans call for you to take action and move to a safe place and that safe place is our shelter, we’ll be there,” Hodges said. “We’ll be ready.”

The main message they want to get across is to be prepared with your own supplies, such as water and nonperishable food.

CLICK HERE to view and download our 2021 Hurricane Survival Guide.

About the Author:

AMS Certified Meteorologist Jordan Patrick is no stranger to crazy South Florida weather as he was born and raised right here!