The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is beginning during a pandemic. What challenges will the Novel Coronavirus present when it’s time to get out of dodge?
State and local emergency managers in Alabama have been in the planning stages for a while, basically, they say, it’s going to boil down to individual responsibility.
Easy enough for Mark Blanda, who doesn’t like to chance it. When it comes to hurricanes—he’s been there, done that.
“I have lived on the Gulf coast, including New Orleans for half my life.”
He almost always evacuates when there’s a storm.
“There was a storm in particular in the early 2000s, after I'd moved to Alabama where we had to, um, evacuate out to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and we stayed over at the hotel and casino up there and, uh, came back and didn't really know what to expect.”
What can be expected—dangerous flooding. Alabama’s shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico stretches about 60 miles—with storm surges and relentless rain, low-lying area roads are often overwhelmed with water. Now—add a pandemic.
“This all got really challenging, very quickly going into a hurricane," said Director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.
"Now you need maybe more shelters, which means it may have just gotten more expensive...and you need to really think through what are those (shelters) that we are going to use...plus how much lead time do we need to actually set up those things," Hastings further explained.
Speaking to FOX10 News Anchor Lenise Ligon, Hastings added that even without a pandemic, mass evacuations can be logistical nightmares, clogging highways, causing traffic accidents and depleting gas stations. But what will be even more difficult this time…is sheltering large numbers of hurricane evacuees amid a pandemic.
“It means is whatever volume of space we had in the past, it's changed. It's probably gone to half the occupancy, which will change the way we do business.”
Jerry Kindle, a local Red Cross Executive Director. He tells FOX10 News it's already lining up a higher number of large spaces so evacuees can be spread out. CDC guidelines will be enforced. Expect heath screenings—and to be isolated if you have COVID-19.
Evacuation routes are indicated by signs along includes HWY 59, HWY 181 and the Baldwin Beach Express, in Baldwin County, which uses HURREVAC to determine the need for evacuations, and how to execute them.
So will the county be making any decisions earlier than in the past because of novel coronavirus concerns? Baldwin County EMA Director Zach Hood says no.
“We don't see a relationship, in terms of Coronavirus and hurricanes in comparison to evacuation. What we do need is for everyone to understand that it's very critical that you look at non congregate sheltering,” said Hood.
So have a plan, and supplies.
Something this COVID-19 pandemic has actually helped Blanda with. “Actually with the Coronavirus, we are actually more prepared than we have been in past years... we have already gotten a pretty nice stockpile of nonperishable food items.”
According to Hood, Baldwin county has seen tremendous growth, residents and tourists. The county is waiting on the results of an evacuation study that will factor in current infrastructure, census data, and routes…to help emergency managers better gauge clearance times going forward. The results are expected in the next year and a half.