By Debra J. Young for The Island Eye News
With the 2020 hurricane season predicted to be active, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is urging families to prepare early as they face unprecedented challenges during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
FEMA has published a guide, “COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season,” that describes anticipated challenges to disaster operations posed by COVID-19, planning considerations for emergency managers in light of these challenges and outlines how FEMA plans to adapt response and recovery operations to the realities and risks of the pandemic.
The guide helps emergency managers prepare, plan and create a shared understanding of expectations between FEMA and state and local governments. Meanwhile, for individuals and families, answering personal preparedness questions is more important than ever in the COVID-19 environment.
Creating a plan
Put together a plan by discussing these four questions with your family:
• How will you receive emergency alerts and warnings before, during and after a disaster? How will you get information from local officials before the storm hits? Do you need to sign up for alerts to your mobile phone or follow local emergency managers on social media?
• What is your shelter plan? What are the requirements and limitations you will face if you go to a shelter? Will you have enough food, water, cash, medication, sanitizing supplies, PPE and other necessities to sustain you and your family for several days during an evacuation? Will you be able to bring your pets?
• What route will you take if you have to evacuate?
• What is your family’s communication plan if an unexpected disaster strikes such as a tornado or active shooter situation? How will you locate or contact family members?
• Check with the Centers for Disease Control and update your emergency plans based on what’s happened with the coronavirus.
One source of information is the FEMA app. No-notice events such as tornadoes clearly show the need to be able to receive emergency weather alerts wherever you are.
With the FEMA app on your phone or mobile device, you can:
• Receive severe weather alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five different locations anywhere in the United States;
• Locate and receive driving directions to open shelters and disaster recovery centers;
• Easily access DisasterAssistance. gov to apply for federal disaster assistance;
• Access information in Spanish by easily toggling between English and Spanish for all features of the app.
• Create custom emergency safety information by saving a custom list of the items in your family’s emergency kit, as well as the places you will meet in case of an emergency.
• Receive safety and preparedness reminders and learn how to stay safe before, during and after over 20 types of hazards, including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.
Build a kit
• Water – one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation;
• Food – at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food;
• Insulin, prescription and over the counter medication and medical supplies to last at least seven days;
• PPE – face masks or cloth coverings, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes;
• Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio and a NOAA weather radio with tone alert;
• First-aid kit;
• Extra batteries;
• Whistle to signal for help;
• Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelterin-place;
• Tissues, toilet tissue, wipes, moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation;
• Manual can opener;
• Local maps;
• Cellphone with chargers and a backup battery;
• Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
Disaster preparedness for people with disabilities
Additional considerations are needed when preparing a disaster plan for people with access or functional needs, disabilities or those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
• Create a support network. Identify those who can assist you. Keep a contact list in a watertight container in your emergency kit;
• Plan ahead for accessible transportation for evacuation or getting to a medical clinic;
• Work with local services, public transportation or paratransit to identify local or private accessible transportation options;
• Contact your city or county government’s emergency management agency or office. Many local offices keep lists of people with disabilities so they can be helped quickly in a sudden emergency or if evacuation is needed as a hurricane approaches;
• Inform a support network where your emergency supplies are; you may want to give one member a key to your house or apartment;
• Know the location and availability of more than one facility for dialysis if that is part of your health maintenance plan;
• If you use medical equipment in your home that requires electricity, talk to your doctor or health care provider about how you can prepare for its use during a power outage;
• Wear medical alert tags or bracelets;
• Make note of the best way to communicate with you in an emergency if you have a communications disability;
• Plan how to replace equipment if it is lost or destroyed.
Keep model information and note where the equipment came from, such as Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance.
Tips for people with a mobility disability:
• If you use a power wheelchair, have a lightweight manual chair available as a backup;
• Know the size and weight of your wheelchair and if it is collapsible
• Keep an extra mobility device such as a cane or walker;
• Include your pets in your emergency plans;
• Make an emergency plan and build a separate emergency kit, including food, water and medicines, for your pets;
• Keep digital records and pictures to identify your pet after a disaster in case you become separated;
• Create a list of veterinarians and places such as hotels that accept pets.
Having access to personal financial, insurance, medical and other records is crucial for starting the process of recovery following a disaster. Taking the time to collect and secure these critical records will give you peace of mind and, in the event of an emergency, will ensure that you have the documentation needed to start the recovery process without delay. Consider establishing an emergency savings account that could be used in any crisis, and keep a small amount of cash at home in a safe place. It is important to have small bills on hand because ATMs and credit cards may not work during a disaster when you need to purchase necessary supplies, fuel or food. Obtain property, health and life insurance, and review existing policies to make sure that what you have in place is what you might need in an emergency.