NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Figuring out how to deal with other disasters during the COVID-19 pandemic is still a work in progress, but FEMA released some guidelines this week to give a better idea on how they plan to handle hurricanes and other disasters.
As we prepare for this hurricane season, emergency preparedness officials across the region acknowledge this one will be different. Joe Valiente is the Jefferson Parish Emergency Management Director.
He said, “I want the public to understand that we understand that COVID-19 is now a part of our life and that we’ve taken the necessary precautions and protocols and that they are in place.”
A 59-page FEMA report outlines some of the changes planned. In addition to making sure there is adequate shelter space for social distancing as explained by Mike Steele, the communications director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Louisiana.
Steele said, “That could mean certain uh particular partitions in certain arenas it could mean additional shelter space.”
The FEMA outline states it will authorize funding for what it calls non-congregate shelters such as hotel rooms and dormitories early on instead of only in later phases of recovery. FEMA will also try to help people with food and supplies in those non-congregate shelters as well as those able to shelter in place.
The plan will continue to change depending on the current situation. While storms can threaten anytime the peak of the season comes in August through September.
Steele said, “It could be very different restrictions in place then compared to if we see a threat you know in in June or even before June like we’ve already seen this year so again that’s why it’s so vital this year probably more than ever for the public to stay informed and understand you know what those conditions are what the regulations are going to be talking about those things for days on end as a threat comes in.”
After a storm the organization plans to limit the number of people sent into a disaster area using more virtual claims assessments. Aerial video and virtual applicant engagement will play a bigger role in determining eligibility.
Colin Aarnold New Orleans Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness says safety from winds and storm surge will remain important during a threat and Covid will be managed.
He said, “If we have a higher level a category 3 or above hurricane and the mayor calls for a mandatory evacuation people need to heed those warnings. Will COVID change that a little bit. There is always that potential.”
Officials at every level say they are prepared for the change.
In order to cope with some of the work stoppages due to state lockdowns and ease financial burdens some deadlines for grants and mitigation programs will also be extended. One major extension is the grace period for flood insurance coverage. It will be increased from 30 to 120 days.
You can read the full report here.