Editorial: Prepare For Pandemic And Hurricane Season

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 29 April 2020 20:27

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

Yep. That's really dark title for an editorial. Yet, it's a topic that needs discussion and planning now rather than later.

Hurricane season begins June 1st. The COVID-19 season is already underway at 1,011,600 cases in the U.S. as of April 28th.

Most of us living in New Hanover County and southeastern NC, have experienced the trials and hardships of hurricanes such as Florence, Fran, etc. Now, consider a Florence later this summer while we are still dealing with the Coronavirus.

Now is not the time to freak out! At this time, we have an opportunity to plan ahead. That planning must come from our local elected leaders and emergency management officials now rather than later.

Granted, they are currently dealing with a lot of logistics amid COVID-19, but if ever the cliche "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" was appropriate, in terms of the upcoming hurricane season, that phrase is most important.

During hurricanes, most people are told to evacuate or stock up on supplies and stay at home. No help during a storm. First responders will not likely risk their lives during a storm when they've already told people to evacuate. That's understandable.

Coronvirus, a hurricane, and for those who do evacuate to a shelter, how's that going to work out?

Keith Acree, Public Information Officer for North Carolina Emergency Management under NC Department of Public Safety explained on Tuesday, "The response to COVID-19 and a hurricane response would largely draw on different resources.  The COVID-19 response is focused on medical personnel and personal protective equipment. A hurricane response typically draws on resources like search and rescue, sheltering and food/water. At the local level, counties that operate shelters are thinking about what sheltering would look like in a COVID-19 environment where social distancing needs to be observed. They are considering options that avoid congregate shelters with many people together in large open spaces like gyms."

Carolina Beach Town Manager Bruce Oakley explained, "We have had some informal "what if”" conversations but have not started planning for the possibility yet. As we start prepping for hurricane season it will definitely be included in the planning and discussions. We will also work with our partners at the County and Kure to make sure we all are on the same page."

Kure Beach Councilman David Heglar - Emergency Manager for the Town - explained, "In a high level way - yes it is being considered.  As far as guidance or details - the town’s hurricane planning process starts in late April, for approval of any plan changes at the May/June meetings.  This issue has been highlighted to the County and State for their thoughts/inputs - but have not received any guidance at this time."

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) wrote a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter Gaynor requesting that FEMA issue guidance for Floridians to prepare for the 2020 hurricane season. With less than two months before the official start to the hurricane season, and with the current Centers for Disease Control protocols for social distancing, they pointed out that proper planning must begin to keep Floridians safe and healthy in the event of a storm.

Suggestion: Federal, state and local governments should plan now to expedite disaster relief ahead of - and - for after such a storm now rather than after the fact. Many NC local governments are still waiting for aid they were promised several years ago for prior storms.

That slow-action model will not work amid the current pandemic if a storm(s) hit our coastal communities.

State officials often encourage people to make plans for storms such as stocking up on supplies, medications, preserving important documents. Now everyone should add COVD-19 concerns to those plans.

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