Hurricane Preparedness During a Pandemic: What to Expect and How to Prepare
Hurricane Season 2020 is here, and scientists are predicting that it will produce more and stronger storms than we have seen in the recent past. In fact, Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha developed before this season even officially began. We have since seen 2 more named storms and a number of tropical depressions.
Floridians are familiar with preparing for this type of emergency, but what happens when hurricane season, potentially a very dangerous one, overlaps with a viral pandemic that has completely changed the way that most of us live?
The State has been struggling with this question for months. How do you organize mandatory evacuation shelters that account for COVID-19 and associated safety measures? What type and amount of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) will be needed for distribution to displaced citizens as well as those assisting with post hurricane cleanup? How do we safely balance the urgent need to bring in help from other states to assist with issues like electrical outages, with the need to keep citizens safe from the potential spread of COVID-19?
While community associations may not face preparation issues on such a large scale, considerations for the 2020 hurricane season should take the pandemic into account. Normal emergency plans will need to be tweaked to anticipate the additional hurdles presented by this unprecedented situation. This means organizing not only a board of directors that may not be in the state, but also preparing to accommodate an entire complex of owners who may need assistance before and after a storm.
What to Expect and How to Prepare:
Lack of supplies. After the initial threat of COVID-19 and the subsequent shelter-in-place orders, people stockpiled everything from bleach to toilet paper. Stores are only now beginning to maintain their stock of essential supplies, and the public is not likely to be more orderly when gathering supplies for an imminent storm. Start stocking up now. Cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and PPE will continue to be a necessity. It is important that the association continue to follow CDC sanitizing guidelines and maintain the safety practices that have been in place to ensure the limited spread of COVID-19.
Be sure to have the normal supplies on hand too – flashlights, batteries, ice, and security equipment (in the event electronic equipment loses power) are important to consider. Additionally, increasing the amount of petty cash that the association has on hand may be beneficial if your bank becomes inaccessible or ATMs no longer work.
More damage. The most active period of most hurricane seasons is mid-August through late October. With the predictions mentioned above, the meteorological community is expecting somewhere between 13 and 19 named storms, 3 and 6 of which could be category 3 or higher.
Ensure that copies of the association’s insurance policy and associated contact information is in a safe and easily accessible location. Keep photographic records of association facilities to provide adequate documentation of damage and facilitate damage assessment. Response and inspection timelines likely will be extended; quick reporting of damage will be imperative for a timely resolution of insurance claims.
Ensure that your lift stations, storm drains, pool and irrigation equipment are in good working order to limit the exacerbation of damage caused by a major storm. Secure furniture, planters, exterior decoration, and other loose items that may cause additional damage. Familiarize board members and managers that will be assisting in emergency responses with the location of water shut off valves and electricity boxes; a copy of building and facility plans can assist in quick identification of these items.
Power outages may last longer than they have in the past. As noted above, the state is likely to encounter issues while trying to organize out of state assistance, which we have often seen during past hurricane seasons. This may lead to longer response times to address downed power lines or other damage causing an outage.
Inform your residents early of the assistance that the association is prepared to offer during and after the storm and encourage them to prepare themselves. Also, identify a location, that will comply with COVID-19 procedures, at which the entire membership can meet for information updates after the storm.
Organize your “phone tree” for communications after the storm, establish your chain of command and main points of contact to avoid unneeded confusion. Update your contact list for board members, residents, management, and vendors. If the need to reach out becomes urgent, it is imperative that your point of contact has accurate information.
Back up important association information that is stored electronically and prepare hard copies of information that may be necessary or helpful in an emergency. The information does no one good if the computer or tablet on which it is stored cannot be charged.
Additionally, make sure that emergency generators are in good working order and that there is a sufficient supply of fuel to run them. As with every hurricane season, an early start is key to success. The more prepared the association is before a storm, the smoother the response will be after. Please refer to the links below for additional information: