Social Distancing and Hurricane Evacuation – Our Next Challenge

In 2012 the Costa Concordia ran aground near the Tuscany coast.  Some passengers swam to shore, got on a plane and flew home without a second thought.  The cruise line desperately searching for survivors, unaware that many were at home watching the events unfold on the news. This caused emergency managers and the cruise line industry to revisit emergency response procedures.  The key term to emerge was “accountability.”  Over the past eight years, emergency managers have continued to learn, train and exercise procedures and skills in response to emergencies keeping human accountability in focus.

In 2020 we are faced with a new set of challenges with Covid-19.  With most of the country under stay at home orders, a new key term emerges, “social distancing.”  On Monday night, tornados crossed seven states, leaving devastation in their wake.  Mississippi Emergency Management requested that people going to public shelters wear a mask, bandana, or scarf around nose and mouth.  Emergency managers are tackling the challenges of providing shelter while maintaining reasonable practices and procedures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  Several states have requested hotels to provide shelter for those displaced by the tornados in order to avoid opening shelters.  Once again emergency managers are forced to look at responses in a different light.

As we approach hurricane season, new concerns arise on how and where to evacuate safely during Covid-19.  Pinellas County is currently reviewing their procedures to help the citizens be better prepared for hurricane season.  First, know your flood zone and evacuation zone (surge area).  Find a family member or neighbor that is not in an evacuation zone and ask to stay with them during the storm.  Shelter procedures are being reviewed to address social distancing, heightened hygiene, and personal protective equipment.  One of the ideas is to keep a family unit close together but separated from the next family unit.  Understand that this is new to everyone and changes will be made along the way; be considerate and patient as our Emergency Managers work hard to address all concerns as we quickly approach hurricane season.

Pinellas County is requesting that members of our community with special needs register early here. This will assist our Emergency Managers plan for special needs shelters and transport.  Please do not wait until a storm is coming to register.  To stay informed, Pinellas County has created Alert Pinellas.  Residents can download this free application.  It allows you to sign up to receive urgent messages on a variety of situations, such as severe weather, boil water notices, missing persons, or evacuations.

By: Grace Hirigoyen