Hurricane season begins in three weeks, and officials are acting to make sure we are all prepared, in case we experience a storm during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early forecasts are calling for an above-average season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
“We’ve dealt with multiple disasters in the past,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, in an interview Friday. “This one’s different, but at the same time, I think with early planning and early preparedness you can do a lot.”
FPL says there could be a longer wait to restore electricity this year, despite improvements in processes.
The company has implemented social-distancing procedures, requires personal protection equipment, sanitation procedures and separate travel by employees, all elements which can slow down repair operations. It also expects to have difficulty recruiting out-of-state repair crews.
“Are we going to be able to amass those kind of crews?” asked Bill Orlove, spokesman for FPL “Are they going to be able to travel to the state? What happens if they get to the state and they’re not healthy due to our screening process?”
He adds, “This season will be a season like no other, where we may be facing not only a hurricane but the pandemic. We are still committed to doing what we need to do. Going into this season, we’re asking customers for their patience, knowing that they may need to be without power for a longer period of time due to circumstances that are, frankly, extraordinary.”
Local officials are also talking with the Federal Emergency Management Agency about potentially replacing or supplementing regular hurricane shelters with hotel rooms, due to the difficulty of maintaining social distancing at shelters.
The time to prepare for a hurricane is NOW, before the season begins. Once you’re under pressure, having a written plan will take the guesswork out of what you need to do to protect you and your family. https://t.co/i9w7JdbnDl #HurricanePrep #HurricaneStrong pic.twitter.com/kjmMq6HkYO
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) May 9, 2020
Those who do have to evacuate to a shelter will be required to answer health questions and have their temperature taken.
Anyone suspected of having the coronavirus will be separated in their own section of the shelter. There will also be masks and handwashing stations.
As for supplies, FEMA suggests putting your supplies together extra early, due to the spotty availability in recent months of some basic household products. The agency also recommends bringing extra hand-sanitizer, cleaning supplies and at least two cloth face coverings per person.
FEMA has increased the grace period on premiums in the national flood insurance program from 30 days to 120 days, although anyone who makes a claim would have to pay their premium.
Insurance adjusters will be able to take claims using phone apps, rather than meeting in person.
The National Hurricane Center is also making plans to keep storm experts from becoming sick.
“We’re doing what we can internally to keep everybody safe because the country needs us in a hurricane,” said hurricane center director Graham. “We’re looking at social distancing. We’re looking at one-way hallways. We’re looking at having work stations moved to offices. We’re doing everything we can to keep people safe because you have to keep healthy here at the hurricane center to ensure that we can perform the mission.”
Although the official NOAA hurricane season forecast is due to be released in two weeks, other forecasts from universities and private forecasting companies are also predicting a busy storm season.