Tampa Bay area agencies forced to reevaluate hurricane season plans due to COVID-19

Hurricane Dorian 9-3-2019
Posted at 1:25 AM, May 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-25 03:16:47-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Hurricane preparations are being be reevaluated almost daily as new information comes out with COVID-19.

"With COVID-19, it's been challenging in the sense that we're preparing and continuing to respond to two different emergencies," says John Antapasis the Emergency Coordinator with the City of Tampa.

Social distancing, masks and sanitizer all would play a role i a hurricane were to hit the Tampa Bay area this year.

"We really try to say it's not a cruise ship, it's a life boat. It should be the last sort of line there and you don't really want to be in a shelter," explains Antapasis.

Plans for shelters across the State of Florida are still in the works. Ideas floated around include using hotels as shelters and even expanding options with churches and schools.

Officials say if you have other options, like staying with friends or family members, that is always going to be better than a storm shelter — as long as they are a few miles out of any evacuation zone.

"The public shelters should really be the last option that people utilize," says Cathie Perkins, Director of Emergency Management for Pinellas County. "We're going to encourage people to try to find hand sanitizer and cloth masks to put that in their hurricane ktis regardless of where they shelter so they can protect themselves."

Perkins and her team are currently working on other potential changes, too.

"We're also looking at storm surge. We're going to be working with our flood plain managers and working with regional planning council and looking at the storm surge of certain areas," explains Perkins. "That may actually help us reduce the people we have to evacuate."

There are other challenges.

Many families are struggling to keep food on the table during the pandemic. That is going to be taken into consideration during hurricane season as fears grow some families may not have enough food for a hurricane kit.

"It's really challenging right now for a lot of people," Perkins says. "So we want to put as much support in place as we can for people who may need additional assistance to help them out as we move forward."

If a storm does approach us, leaders say the best options are having the latest information, using your storm plan and continuing to follow CDC guidelines.

"The staying informed is really going to be critical this year because right now I can't tell you all the places that are going to open or how we're going to do some of the shelters. So there might be be changes as we go through hurricane season and we're able to shell up more of those plans," says Perkins.