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Hurricanes & Covid-19

July 31, 2020

August 1 is the first day of the peak hurricane season (August-September).  While the last hurricane in Massachusetts was Bob in 1991, the Commonwealth has a history of destructive hurricanes. In 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts an above normal hurricane season. Regardless of the seasonal forecast and the actual number of storms that occur, it only takes one storm to severely impact an area. All of Massachusetts is at risk—with the storm surge threat in coastal areas and high winds, heavy rainfall, and inland flooding possible across entire state, as we saw with tropical storm Irene in 2011.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, the threat posed by hurricanes, tropical storms, and other natural hazards increases.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA, www.mass.gov/mema) has issued the following recommendations to prepare for this year’s hurricane season:

  1. Know Your Evacuation Zone. Learn if you live or work in a hurricane evacuation zone. To learn whether your home or business is in a predesignated hurricane evacuation zone, visit  www.mass.gov/knowyourzone.
  2. Make an Emergency Plan. Develop a plan with the members of your household to prepare for what to do in an emergency situation, including making an evacuation plan, planning for individuals with access and functional needs, and any extra considerations during COVID-19 pandemic including how you might evacuate and where you might evacuate to. If you are in a high risk population, the safest option may be to evacuate to a location without the general public such as a hotel, relatives’ home or other destination. More information on developing a household emergency plan can be found at www.mass.gov/info-details/make-a-family-emergency-plan.
  3. Build an Emergency Kit. Build an emergency kit containing items that will sustain you and your family if you are isolated for three to five days without power or unable to go to a store. Be sure to customize the kit for your family’s specific needs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, include face coverings, masks, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies that you may need. Suggestions for what should be included in an emergency kit can be found at www.mass.gov/info-details/build-an-emergency-kit.
  4. Stay Informed. Every family should have multiple methods for receiving emergency alerts. Learn more about different types of alerting and information tools including the Emergency Alert System, Wireless Emergency Alerts, NOAA Weather Radio, Social Media & Traditional Media, 2-1-1 Hotline, Local Notification Systems: www.mass.gov/info-details/be-informed-and-receive-emergency-alerts.

What is Massachusetts doing to prepare? MEMA and the Department of Public Health (DPH) have developed guidance for the Commonwealth and municipalities for providing operating shelters and conducting evacuations during COVID-19, which will be used to adjust the Commonwealth’s mass care and evacuation plans to help keep individuals both safe and healthy during a disaster. In addition, state agencies are adjusting plans, including re-evaluating capacities of state-initiated regional shelter sites; preparing for the need for additional evacuation transportation vehicles; adding screening, sanitization, disinfection, and general public health protocols to existing mass care plans; and planning for and preparing to provide sheltering in non-congregate settings such as hotels. For more information on MEMA and DPH preparations, visit www.mass.gov/mema.

While you prepare for your own household emergency needs, don’t forget to touch base with other family and friends who might also be impacted—especially any older people who may live alone.  Don’t wait until an emergency occurs to try to contact people who may have been evacuated or have lost power or internet services.  Make communications plans before they are needed.