Letter to the Editor: Preparation the key to dealing with COVID-19, wildfire and hurricane seasons

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Dear Editor,

Clay County Emergency Management, in Unified Command with the Florida Department of Health in Clay County, Board of County Commissioners and County Manager, have been preparing for and responding to the COVID-19 outbreak since the end of January, when it was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The County Emergency Management Division updated and began to implement the Infectious Disease Hazard Specific Plan and the Department of Public Safety began purchasing personal protective equipment for paramedics and specialized sanitizing equipment for ambulances. Emergency response protocols were adapted to ensure the safety of emergency personnel and the public, while providing care and transport of patients during this new healthcare emergency.

The Unified Command Team also recognized that the need would be great in our community due to the significant number of residents now out of work and quickly established a warehouse operation, food distribution sites and a system to manage the supply and demand of commodities. A partnership with CareerSource led to a County re-employment center being established at the Fairgrounds to connect residents with available jobs. A regional Incident Management Team positioned in our area to work with long-term care facilities and ensure training and supplies were available for residents and staff. As soon as PPE, testing kits and lab capacity allowed, testing sites were set up in our community so residents did not need to travel to Jacksonville for COVID-19 testing.

Now, as we enter the spring wildfire season and the Atlantic hurricane season, the Unified Command Team is facing new challenges with the enhanced preparations needed for setting up evacuation shelters in the wake of the virus. Mass sheltering will look much different due to safety precautions and physical distancing guidelines. Now more than ever, residents need to understand that an evacuation shelter is a last resort option with limited privacy and comfort. Now is the time to re-evaluate your family disaster plan and consider staying at the home of family or friends outside of the evacuation zone instead of at a shelter. You should also examine your emergency supply kit and make sure you have enough essentials and comfort items for a week including masks, gloves and sanitizer for your family. Remember to plan for pets, they will also need food, medications, bedding and crates during an evacuation.

I encourage everyone to monitor local news stations and sign up for emergency alerts through Alert.ClayCountyGov.com so you will know when a threat to your home is developing or if an evacuation is ordered. You can also see if your home is in an evacuation zone by clicking on the “Find Your Evacuation Zone” tab and entering your address.

Everyone should develop a disaster plan that includes evacuation routes, a safe place to go and a list of people to notify before your leave. Remember all mobile homes and low-lying areas are in an evacuation zone, regardless of their location. Everyone should follow evacuation orders when they are given. Don’t delay or you could become stranded as many did during Hurricane Irma.

As we work to reopen, rehire and reunite Clay County, we will face new challenges as a community. Pandemics, wildfires and hurricanes are all unpredictable. What we can control is the planning and preparations we make now for our families. By staying informed, developing a family disaster plan and creating an emergency supply kit, we can weather any kind of storm. We are Clay County Strong, and we will get through this and any future challenges, together.

Sincerely,

John Ward, Clay County Emergency Management Director

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