Orange County’s Hurricane Prep in the Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic
This hurricane season, balancing tropical storm threats with the reality of COVID-19 represents a serious challenge, but one for which Orange County’s Office of Emergency Management is ready. The message from Lauraleigh Avery, Orange County Emergency Manager, is a simple one … the better prepared we are now, the more it will help the community in the future.
“Safer and stronger together is our motto this year,” said Avery. “When we’re presented with challenges, we work together to get through them and come out the other side even stronger. This hurricane season will be no different.”
Avery notes that Orange County has extra planning measures in place when it comes to shelters, as social distancing will determine how many individuals are allowed in each one. In order to spread people out, the County is preparing to double that number, using up to 39 Orange County Public Schools as shelters, instead of the usual number, utilizing not only their gymnasiums, but also classrooms. And although hotels are normally used for evacuations of nearby coastal counties, Orange County will also use available hotels for shelter, if necessary.
“None of this planning will matter if residents don’t wear masks and help stop the spread of the coronavirus now,” asserted Avery. “If a bunch of first responders and EOC personnel are sick with the virus, it’s going to seriously hinder emergency operations if and when a storm hits. We all have to remain vigilant and wear masks while in public. I always say we wear masks for you – so please wear them for us.”
All Regular Special Needs Shelters will screen everyone before entry, and those who test COVID-19 positive will be situated in separate areas or accommodations. The County has thermometers and extra protective equipment in anticipation of these increased demands.
Sandbag distribution planning is also underway for residents, and they are encouraged to pick up sandbags early this year – prior to any impending storm approaching.
Hurricane kits should still contain the same recommended items, but instead of stocking them for three to five days, residents should stock them for five to seven days. This year, make sure to also have hand sanitizer in your kit along with facemasks for you and your family. For a list of recommended items, go to www.ready.gov/build-a-kit.
Typically, the County encourages residents to go to shelters if they live in a manufactured home or one that will not withstand hurricane winds. This season, the County is asking residents two questions: Is it okay to ride the storm out in your home? And if not, can you go to a relative’s or friend’s house that structurally sound to ride out the storm? If the answer to both questions is “no,” than they will be encouraged to go to a shelter.
This year’s annual Hurricane Expo, where hurricane information guides and 1,000 weather radios are distributed, was cancelled due to COVID-19. In order to get these items distributed, Orange County Fire Rescue firefighters who are out on a call are asking residents if they need them and are handing them out personally. Orange County crisis counselors are also distributing weather radios.
“It’s already been a challenging year due to COVID-19,” said Avery, “but our Emergency Operations Center has been activated for a record 120 days straight and counting, so we have our battle rhythm and are better prepared for hurricane season than we ever have been before.”
For more information on storm preparation, visit www.ocfl.net/storm.