As you respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters amid the COVID pandemic, EMSI resources remain available to respond in support of your organization or community, including our Type 1 IMT resources.
While many of us are still reeling from the effects of a global pandemic, hurricane season has not so quietly arrived. Many municipalities are working feverishly to reopen, but it bears noting that we need to be cautious in doing so, as well as balancing preparation for the annual arrival of Atlantic storms. We’ve already seen NINE named storms develop and that was in the sleepy first seven weeks of hurricane season. If this is the slow period, hang on for the ride of your life as we approach the historically busy months of August and September!
With COVID-19 continuing into this summer and fall, now is the time to plan for multiple incidents in your areas of responsibility that must be managed simultaneously. Hope is not a plan, so incident managers must start planning now for how they will respond to the lingering effects of COVID-19 when a hurricane response compounds the limitations of incident response.
Running from June 1st through November 30th, hurricane season in recent years has taught us that areas previously thought safe may not be so anymore. According to the latest forecasts released by Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be more active than historical averages and the first few months have reflected that estimation. Typically, there are 2.7 major hurricanes during a season, but CSU has already increased their forecast to nine hurricanes expected this year, including four major hurricanes, with winds of at least 111 miles per hour. Forecasters have indicated that 2020 could be a ‘hyperactive season’ like we previously saw in 2010 and 2017.
While we are not quite yet into the “busy” part of the hurricane season, preparing now is critical to ensure your team is ready to respond if you haven’t already. FEMA recently released their COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season (https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/188203). The purpose of this document is to provide “actionable guidance to State, Local, Tribal & Territorial officials to prepare for response and recovery operations and encourages personal preparedness measures amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While this document focuses on hurricane season preparedness, most planning considerations can also be applied to any disaster operation in the COVID-19 environment, including no-notice incidents, spring flooding and wildfire seasons, and typhoon response.” Of note, this document contains several checklists to help your organization’s preparedness, response, and recovery considerations.
So it’s time to dust off those emergency response plans and re-familiarize everyone with any existing hurricane plans. As part of this review, Emergency Managers should incorporate COVID-19 guidance, such as social distancing limitations, travel restrictions, fiscal impacts, reduction of government services, and potential impacts to your supply chain, as well as any Continuity of Operations (COOP) impacts, such as travel and lodging restrictions that may prevent use of traditional COOP facilities. In addition, be sure to share your plans with your partners and other stakeholders. Validate contact information (email and phone numbers) of your team and your partners to ensure you can reach everyone when necessary. Additionally, if you haven’t already done so, establish an accountability process so you can verify the safety of your employees post-incident, as well as track deployed members.
Related to COVID-19, some specific protocols to add to your plan should include screening all personnel entering Incident Command Posts, Emergency Operations Centers, and other incident locations to reduce the spread of this virus. This should be done via a checkpoint before the personnel enter the space and ideally outside to help dissipate any droplets before transmission. Additionally, if incident locations are physically open, they should be designed to maximize social distancing among responders. Emergency managers should seriously weigh what functions can be done remotely in a virtual environment to reduce exposure. Furthermore, they must assess the risk of having certain functions virtual, e.g., will remote responders have power and/or internet capability post-hurricane? If not, will they report to the physical location and will it be arranged in accordance with COVID guidance? And let’s not forget that you may need additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all responders beyond what you might “normally” have needed in light of COVID. Now is the time to develop such virtual policies and procedures, not once the wind and rain begin.
As you review your plans, be sure to update them with any new or changes in response partners. If possible, conduct training, workshops, and exercises to ensure that all members are prepared for an incident. It may seem counterintuitive, but you should train to the plan. It’s not sufficient to send it out for review and hope that everyone finds time to read it and be prepared. Much like a sports coach doesn’t just hand out new plays without review and practice, IMTs need to practice how they will play to ensure success.
Start your liaison coordination among federal, state, and local government partners, as well as private sector entities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This includes all your response partners’ involvement, as the time to make friends is not when you need one. Reciprocal or mutual agreements should be made in advance to ensure an effective and efficient response and ensure that all responders understand what each organization brings to the table.
In addition to establishing IMTs in your local area, your organization may be called upon to support other affected areas. Think of the flooding in the Carolinas or the destruction in Haiti caused by Hurricane Matthew in years past. In the event that local responders are overwhelmed, requests for help are sure to come. Are you deployment-ready? As professional responders, we need to build a culture of preparedness for all hazards.
In an effort to reduce exposure and maintain social distancing recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic, EMSI has incorporated real-time live web-based training and conferencing tools with live subject matter experts to assist IMTs remotely, providing workshops, small scale exercises, and IMT support virtually. Please contact us for more information on how we can leverage this technology to support you.
Reporting to the response: Unlike some incidents, hurricanes rarely arrive unannounced. Use this time to plan your travel and check the latest weather reports to avoid the storm and known damaged areas. Fully check and prepare your vehicle before the hurricane season begins and upkeep maintenance throughout. Keep your gas tank near full to avoid shortages that may occur due to damage or power outages. Avoid traveling alone and don’t travel unless necessary. Let someone know your timetable and primary and alternate routes. And be sure to track Jim Cantore, as you know it’ll be bad wherever he goes….
While this list is not comprehensive, deployed teams should anticipate being self-sufficient for the first couple of days until necessary supplies can be brought in. It is recommended that you carry a Hurricane Go-Kit with the following items:
- Manuals, job aids, or reference material necessary
- Blank ICS forms
- Safety gear (as required)
- Mobile phone, charger, batteries
- NOAA weather radio/portable radio to receive emergency information
- Blankets/sleeping bags
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- High-calorie, non-perishable food, such as dried fruit, nuts and granola bars, and other food that does not require cooking or refrigeration
- Extra clothing to keep dry
- Large empty can or bucket to use as an emergency toilet. Tissues and paper towels for sanitary purposes
- Small can and waterproof matches
- Tool kit
- Tow rope
- Battery booster cables
- Water container, water purifier/filter, and ample amounts of water
- Compass and road maps (don’t depend on mobile devices as antenna/cell towers may be damaged)
- What else would you carry in your go-kit? Let everyone know in the comments!
EMSI can help build your go-kits, as well as offering a wide assortment of IMT position and team training opportunities, both in-person and virtually. Additionally, EMSI can support your response with our IMT and a variety of flexible and scalable deployment configurations. Contact us today to find out how we can help your organization’s response preparedness!