GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The year 2020 has been marked globally by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shattered normality all over the world.
Now that hurricane season is here, the angst severe weather is only compounded by the impacts of the pandemic.
Luckily, John Ward, Director of Emergency Management for the county, and those with whom he works have not forgotten about the annual threat caused by the confluence of weather and location.
Ward discussed how the county is preparing to deal with hurricane season in the wake of very different circumstances than ever before.
“Obviously we would get an opportunity to get out, do a lot of speeches, a lot of public outreaches and a lot of gathering, to educate people and hand preparedness information out,” said Ward. “Obviously that wasn’t able to happen because we were in the midst of responding to COVID and we didn’t want to bring large groups together like that. I think the education and outreach of hurricane season were impacted because we usually do that in April and May.”
The county has been pushing residents to prepare an evacuation plan now to avoid the possibility of needing to go into a shelter.
The most significant change, according to Ward, is the operational guidelines of dealing with storm shelters if necessary. With social distancing still an essential precaution to prevent a flareup of the COVID-19 virus, even more space than usual will be needed. Under typical circumstances, the area allotted in a shelter is 20 square feet a person. Special medical needs personnel are allocated 60 square feet. Under social distancing guidelines, 100 square feet is given for each evacuee person with special medical needs personnel receiving 160 square feet. This means that more shelters will be needed if a storm approaches.
Not only are the physical locations of more shelters a need, but the budget to run them must also be considered. At an operating budget of approximately $10,000 a day, the number of shelters must be found and planned for.
Clay County residents have not explicitly been seeking guidance regarding hurricane season, according to Ward.
“I’ve been in Jacksonville for 25 years; I’m retired military,” said Navy veteran Stanley McCoy. “I’m aware of it [hurricane season] every year, and I prepare myself. I prepare myself in a lot of different ways. I make sure I have flashlights, candles, batteries, water, and sandbags. I really try to prepare myself every year. These are natural disasters, right? I understand this COVID virus is very dangerous, but still, we have out natural disasters in Florida, so, therefore, you can’t not pay attention to that, too, so I try to prepare for everything.”
“I have a lot of people in my family in the medical field,” said a Home Depot shopper who preferred to remain unidentified. “So while we are already preparing for COVID, we have to make sure we are in hurricane mode, so stay prepared throughout the year. We live in Florida; it's not just hurricanes. We try to stay on top of stuff.”