HOUSTON, Texas — Hurricane season will be in full force again from June 1 through November 30, but this year emergency officials have to accommodate a new concern: coronavirus.
Local and federal agencies are changing the playbook on how they will handle evacuations, rescues and other preparations while balancing COVID-19 health guidelines.
Hurricane season is unpredictable, and while Harris County’s Office of Emergency Management is accustomed to dealing with the multiple threats at a same time, COVID-19 brings with it a lot of unique challenges.
Francisco Sanchez, deputy emergency management coordinator for Ready Harris, said they’re looking at how to safely evacuate people while maintaining social distancing.
"This year, it's going to be absolutely essential that if you're asked to evacuate that you that you evacuate but only those people that we ask to leave need to leave,” Sanchez said. “That minimizes the number of people on roadways. It minimizes the number of people that have to go to hotels or shelters.”
He said there’s a lot of risks associated with evacuating, so sheltering at home whenever possible will be crucial.
If people have to evacuate, Sanchez said they should not go to areas outside the region like Dallas or Austin.
He said, “Everyone is addressing COVID in these communities different. There might be different impacts in those communities. There might be different rules and regulations. Things might be handled differently.”
Ready Harris is also looking at how much shelter space will be needed.
Sanchez said you can expect less people in each shelter.
In addition, he said there will be heightened disinfecting and sanitizing procedures including temperatures screenings.
Non-congregate shelters like hotels may be used to isolate people who may been exposed to the virus or show symptoms but don’t need to go to the hospital.
“So it’s one of those things where we’re going to have to see how many hotel rooms are available, how do we prioritize them, how do we keep the public safe and how do we maintain that surge of first responders that need to come in,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said the success of these plans will depend on people doing their part.
He said, “People need to dial 211 and register in advance of hurricane season if they might need help evacuating whether they are senior, whether they have an underlying medical condition or in this tough economy, if they cannot afford to evacuate.”
Sanchez said it’s important to get ready now.