Sheltering people during COVID-19 will be difficult this hurricane season
Posted July 17, 2020 11:06 a.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2020 12:15 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — State leaders on Friday discussed how the coronavirus pandemic will complicate hurricane season in North Carolina this year.
Division of Emergency Management meteorologist Katie Webster began with a reminder that the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration has predicted the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season to be more active than usual. La niña activity indicates that more hurricanes will form this year, and many could be classified as major hurricanes.
"The game is certainly not over," Webster said, adding that hurricane season peaks in August, September and October.
While no hurricanes have formed as of mid-July, the Atlantic has already had six named storms in 2020, and at least two have shattered records.
Similar to previous years, people could lose their homes due to flooding or wind damage, but sheltering victims during a pandemic will be difficult.
To reduce transmission of coronavirus, the American Red Cross has called for non-congregate sheltering if people are forced out of their homes during severe weather. Instead of housing hurricane victims in large, open spaces, officials are calling for people to be put in hotels, dormitories and classrooms, where they can be more easily separated.
"This is easier said than done," said Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry, who said his organization is already securing extra volunteers, stockpiling protective gear and coordinating with other emergency groups.
According to Sprayberry, some congregate shelters will have to be used, but those that open will have a minimum of 115 square feet per person. Because the people who usually run those shelters are at high risk from the virus, the state will rely on counties for help operating them.
Another resource that will help prepare North Carolinians for hurricane season during the pandemic is a new evacuation lookup tool, Know Your Zone.
The Know Your Zone initiative launched in June with a website, KnowYourZone.nc.gov, that features an interactive tool where people can search their address to find their evacuation zone.
During the pandemic, it will be essential to minimize unnecessary sheltering and evacuation, and Know Your Zone should help, Webster said. The website also features a hurricane guide, educational graphics and a frequently asked questions page.