TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — April is typically a time for hurricane preps in Flordia. At the moment, though, emergency managers are laser-focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Early predictions for this hurricane season show a higher than normal risk. Warmer water in the gulf potentially bringing a better chance of strong storms making landfall this year.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to deal with a hurricane,” Governor Ron DeSantis said in a recent news briefing. “But I think we have to assume we’re going to have one.”
Florida's preparation for this year's season is still materializing, state officials say. They're working to craft plans without knowing the full extent to which COVID-19 will impact Florida. Concerns are numerous.
Currently, medical supplies and hospitals are stretched thin. The economy has slumped with unemployment growing weekly. Social distancing requirements could also extend beyond April.
State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz says there are a lot of unknowns as Florida faces an unprecedented situation.
“How do I evacuate people that might be COVID-19 positive?” Moskowitz said. “What do we do with our hospitals? Are we using schools for shelters? How are we doing that? How are we separating populations?”
To answer those questions, Moskowitz is dedicating a team of experts to craft storm/COVID-19 response tactics. Florida is also signing with national consulting firms to draft first of their kind policies aimed at protecting people while preventing infection.
“The signs and the models show that by the heart of hurricane season this should all be calmed down, but that’s not how emergency management works,” Moskowitz said. “We’ve got to write plans and come up with protocols for things that may never even happen.”
Preparedness experts with the Florida Hurricane Response Hub say they’re hearing new state or county rules could include testing for COVID-19 at storm shelters. Setting up specific sites for infected. Providing hotel space to those unable to afford a safe place is also a possibility.
“Everyone is brainstorming new solutions to this new problem,” said Keren Bolter, a senior planner with Arcadis. “If we all come together and share then we’re not starting from scratch.”
Bolter says the time for governments to prepare is now before hurricane season gets much closer. The same goes for individuals, she says, urging residents to create a safety plan in the event of an emergency.
Hurricane season starts June 1. It typically peaks in August and September.