As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact communities across the United States, East and Gulf Coast emergency managers are preparing for their second hurricane season during the pandemic. The 2021 hurricane season presents potential challenges for emergency managers and state, local, tribal and territorial government officials as they prepare for a possible disaster to strike while simultaneously managing the ongoing pandemic response and recovery efforts and address the recovery from other disasters.
This week is Hurricane Preparedness Week. Hurricanes are one of the most destructive natural phenomena, making awareness and preparedness key as we plan for the potentiality of a major storm strikes this season.
The 2021 Hurricane Season
Meteorologists predict another active hurricane season in the Atlantic this year –June 1 to November 30. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)Climate Prediction Center updated the averages for the Atlantic hurricane season. The average number of named storms increased from 12 to 14 and the average number of hurricanes increased from 6 to 7. The average number of major hurricanes (category 3 or higher) remained the same at three.
NOAA will release its predictions for the 2021 hurricane season in late May, but other forecasting groups are predicting an above average hurricane season.
Hurricane states must balance hurricane preparedness and response with their current COVID-19 recovery and vaccine distribution efforts.
The second hurricane season during the pandemic raises concerns, and emergency managers are advising that residents and communities start to plan and prepare now for the hurricane season. Individuals and families in hurricane or flood prone communities should ensure to prepare their homes, their emergency plans, and build emergency kits that include essential supplies for the pandemic such as face masks and hand sanitizer. Even though mass vaccination efforts are underway across the country, evacuation shelters may likely need to maintain the same COVID-19 safety precautions that were adopted during the 2020 hurricane season.
Hurricanes, also known as tropical cyclones, are rotating storm systems that form over tropical, warm ocean waters. Although hurricanes do not always make landfall, they can cause widespread devastation when they do. Hurricanes produce strong winds and heavy rain that can cause severe wind damage and flooding, as well as storm surge that occurs when seawater levels rise due to a storm’s winds pushing the water towards the shore. According to the NOAA, 40 percent of the United States’ total population live in coastal counties, many of which are less than ten feet above mean sea level, making storm surge extremely dangerous and deadly.
Hurricanes are classified by wind speed; a Category 1 is the weakest with winds between 74 and 95 mph and a Category 5 is the strongest with sustained winds reaching over 157 mph.
The evacuation and sheltering of residents in the path of a landfall hurricane will need to follow guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Emergency plans will need to include how to safely evacuate hospitals, assisted living facilities and potentially transport infected or vulnerable patients to alternate facilities. Planning also needs to consider how you maintain a healthy surge force for emergency and essential workers (e.g., electric operators, linemen). These plans will have to take into account additional costs of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing supplies, and additional personnel and l time to potentially test and efficiently move people to safety without risking their health in an already life-threatening situation.
As with any emergency, the best time to prepare for a hurricane is before it happens. Although hurricanes primarily affect coastlines, a large storm could impact inland areas as well with severe wind and heavy rain.
Families and individuals should start planning now. There are great tools, such as a Hurricane Checklist, like the ones provided by Ready.gov or the National Hurricane Survival Initiative. It is important to talk about hurricanes with family members and discuss your emergency plans if an event were to occur.
All families and individuals should have at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food and water and a seven-day supply of prescription medications, as well as essential items such as batteries and a first aid kit on hand. It is important to stay up-to-date on hurricane warnings and listen to the NOAA Weather Radio or visit the National Hurricane Center for updates on the movement of a hurricane. Always listen to warnings or announcements from local officials, and if you participate in social media, follow your local and state emergency management offices.
It is vital for individuals to be aware and track the path of a hurricane to determine if they are at risk and need to evacuate. An evacuation of an area may be necessary depending on the severity of the storm. Individuals should listen to local officials on evacuations and be familiar with their evacuation zones and routes.
Individuals who are evacuated or must go to a community or congregate shelter should follow the CDC’s precautions to safeguard their health. Face masks and cleaning or sanitary supplies may be required to be packed and brought to the shelters by individuals. Social distancing may need to be maintained to lower the chances of catching and spreading the coronavirus in confined spaces if individuals are not vaccinated.
If individuals are permitted to remain home, it is recommended they have an emergency plan in place and supplies on hand to protect themselves and their family. Outside furniture should be brought inside, drains cleared, and hurricane shutters installed to protect against heavy rain and powerful winds. Now is the time to check on those emergency preparedness kits and to your insurance coverage to ensure proper coverage. It takes 30 days for flood insurance to be in effect.
It is important to understand the risks associated with hurricanes and to have a plan in place.
For more information on hurricanes and preparedness visit:
- Ready.gov: https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes
- National Hurricane Center: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/
- Central Pacific Hurricane Center: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/cphc/
- Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/hurricane.html
- National Hurricane Survival Initiative: https://hurricanesafety.org/