Disaster Preparedness During COVID-19
Hurricane season is here, and this year, we’re going to have to add an extra layer of precaution to take into account the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center expect 2020 to be a busier than average hurricane season, and the first two named storms of the season, Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha, have already affected the Southeast. So here we go!
UF/IFAS Extension has been continuously fine-tuning its disaster preparedness and response tactics, and this year’s pandemic adds a new challenge. We’ve recently surveyed our Extension specialists and staff about the roles we take on during disasters, as well as our most-frequently requested information and we’re in the process of updating two online portals—one internal to UF/IFAS Extension and one for public information:
Additionally, the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, in collaboration with the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) features regular updates and resources for both COVID-19 and disaster preparedness. (https://piecenter.com/resources/natural-disaster-resources/)
In a way, we’ve all been in “preparation mode” since March, and unlike COVID-19, we’re used to dealing with hurricanes. On the other hand, COVID-19 adds an extra element of uncertainty, as it has exposed weaknesses in the supply chain and social distancing must be taken into account in all aspects of disaster preparation, mitigation and recovery.
So we’ll need to add an extra layer of protection–for ourselves and others–this hurricane season.
- The time to start planning is now. We can’t afford to wait until COVID-19 is under control to prepare for hurricane season. It will more time than usual to prepare emergency food, water, and medical supplies.
- Incorporate COVID-19 protections into your hurricane preparedness efforts. In addition to the usual hurricane preparation supplies—bottled water, canned food, gas for generators, etc.—you should set aside a supply of face masks or coverings, and hand sanitizer for yourself and others.
- Be prepared for shortages of some supplies on store shelves. As you shop, pick up a few items in advance–add a couple of gallons of water here, a few extra cans of food there. Make sure to practice social distancing and personal protection any time you head out to shop for supplies.
- If possible, sign up for mail order delivery of your medicine prescriptions, or call in your prescription ahead of time and used drive-through or curbside pickup.
- Pay attention to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, including potential shelters for your pets. State and county emergency response teams are revising their evacuation plans to allow for screening and social distancing.
- Review your evacuation plan and know which evacuation centers are open in your area. Some evacuation centers in your area might be inaccessible or have reduced capacity.
- Prepare an evacuation “go kit” with personal items you cannot do without during an emergency. Include items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, such as soap, hand sanitizer and at least two cloth face coverings for each person.
- Follow social distancing recommendations when checking up on neighbors and friends.
- Don’t ignore your mental health. Have a plan in place to deal with being mentally and emotionally overwhelmed by events.
This last point is especially important, now that we’re dealing with the extra strain of preparing for disaster during a pandemic. We can expect higher levels of stress heading into this year’s hurricane season. We need to talk openly about ways to deal with stress and trauma we may experience.
Dr. Heidi Radunovich has prepared a video presentation about managing stress during a pandemic: https://tinyurl.com/yx4uuvcz
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resources for coping with disasters and traumatic events: https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/index.asp
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a mobile app that gives emergency responders access to behavioral health resources: https://store.samhsa.gov/product/samhsa-disaster
Many of us in UF/IFAS Extension are involved in emergency response and disaster recovery efforts. If you’re an emergency responder, make sure you take care of yourself. Check yourself for signs of burnout or stress.
In spite of the challenges we face, I’m confident about the months ahead. Why? Because I’ve seen how we in Extension have stepped up in response to emergencies in the past, including hurricanes Irma and Michael, and I’ve seen how quickly and effectively we’ve adapted to COVID-19. In these extraordinary times, UF/IFAS Extension has not only helped communities be more resilient, we’ve proven that we are resilient.
We will be providing more updates about disaster preparedness and COVID-19, so please stay tuned and stay safe!