The United States may still be reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic when another catastrophe strikes. The upcoming hurricane season presents unprecedented challenges for emergency managers and state, local, tribal and territorial government officials as they prepare for a natural disaster to strike while simultaneously responding to the public health crisis and trying to reopen the economy.
This week is Hurricane Awareness Week. Hurricanes are one of the most destructive natural phenomena, making it vital to raise awareness and prepare today in the event a major storm strikes this 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. Hurricane 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.
Once a hurricane reaches landfall, its impact varies depending on its size and strength. Hurricanes are classified by wind speed, with a Category 1 being the weakest with winds between 74 and 95 mph and a Category 5 being the strongest with sustained winds reaching over 157 mph. A hurricane weakens as it moves across land; however, the force of the storm can still cause significant damage to buildings and property.
The 2020 Hurricane Season
Meteorologists predict above-average hurricane activity in the Atlantic this season –June 1st to November 30th. AccuWeather has predicted 14 to 18 named tropical storms this season, with about half of them expected to turn into hurricanes and potential major storms.
On top of this yearly threat, hurricane states are now facing the uncertainty of when or if a vaccine for the coronavirus will be available. The potential of a second COVID-19 wave occurring during hurricane season makes it likely that areas vulnerable to a hurricane will face the challenge of responding to two disasters at once.
The pandemic raises many concerns on how to respond to a potential hurricane while maintaining social distancing guidelines and protecting those most vulnerable. Emergency managers are working to increase the preparedness of at-risk areas and establish a plan in the event that the perfect storm of a hurricane and the virus collide.
The evacuation and sheltering of residents in the path of a landfall hurricane will need to follow social distancing and sanitary 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 and transport infected or vulnerable patients to alternate facilities. Is additional time a factor or need? Planning also needs to consider how you maintain a well surge force for emergency and essential workers (e.g., electric operators and linemen). These plans will have to take into account additional costs of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing supplies, additional personnel, and additional 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 can impact inland areas as well with severe wind and heavy rain.
Families can start to plan now by using a Hurricane Checklist, like the ones provided by the National Hurricane Survival Initiative and adhering to guidance provided by Ready.gov. It is important to talk about hurricanes with family members and what to do if one were to occur. Start the planning process now. All families and individuals should have at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food and water 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 their website for updates on the movement of a hurricane as well as to pay attention to warnings or announcements from local officials.
It is vital for individuals to be aware and track the path of a hurricane to determine if they are at risk of being affected. An evacuation of an area may be necessary depending on the severity of the storm. Individuals should listen to local officials to determine if an evacuation is required and should be familiar with evacuation zones and routes.
Individuals who are evacuated or must go to a community or congregate shelter should follow the CDC’s safety 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 should also be maintained to lower the chances of catching and spreading the coronavirus in confined spaces.
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. The National Hurricane Survival Initiative recommends individuals stock up on essential items ahead of time and review their insurance coverage to ensure their property is covered.
It is important to understand the risks associated with hurricanes and have a plan to be prepared in an emergency.
For more information on hurricanes and preparedness visit:
- gov: https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes
- The National Hurricane Center & Central Pacific Hurricane Center: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/
- 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/