Hurricane Season and COVID-19

By: Madison Littin, Associate Advisory Consultant

May 14, 2020 in Crisis Management

Hurricane Season Warning Sign

The North Atlantic Hurricane Season officially starts June 1. This annual ordeal is normal for businesses along the Southwest and Eastern Seaboard; most will just dust off their hurricane plans to prepare for the upcoming storm season. However, there is another lingering threat that needs to be accounted for: the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses, emergency managers, and public health officials may need to reconsider every aspect of their plans because of this.

Points of consideration may be:

Re-evaluating Shelter Options. Depending on the location and population, different kinds of shelters should be reviewed. In an average hurricane season, buildings such as schools, stadiums, and recreation halls are used for mass sheltering. With social distancing rules and a need for enhanced cleaning, these locations are no longer ideal. Some are considering using hotels rooms for each family unit, but will the hotels be open by then? Do you open more shelters in order to spread out the populace? How do you shelter the currently sick in order to avoid spreading the virus?

Supply Chain is Already Struggling. Grocery stores have been hit hard due to COVID-19; essentials such as toilet paper, bottled water, and non-perishable goods can be spotty on the shelves. Even if a hurricane is forecasted several days out, there will be a flood a people trying to secure already limited supplies. What backup options are there for those who can’t get necessities? Do grocery stores further limit the number of items per person? Transportation of necessities is already slowed – will essential items even get to the stores in time? Additionally, how do grocery stores maintain customer and employee safety when hundreds of people are trying to shop at once?

Inland or Inter-state Evacuation. For those living in the path of an oncoming hurricane, evacuation orders are usually given. Those who can travel typically move inland or even to a nearby state. But with the recent financial hardship many Americans are facing, will they have money for gas and transportation? Will other cities/counties/states welcome potentially infected evacuees? Will families be hesitant to leave their homes for fear of going to a shelter or location that may have an infected person? There are many who depend on public transportation for evacuation to a shelter – how do you ensure their safety?

Hospitals are Dangerously Low on Supplies and Personnel. Hospitals have been working at or near capacity for the last several weeks. Many are running low on personal protection equipment (PPE), if they even have any left. They may be unprepared to handle the onslaught of a hurricane while treating for COVID-19. If a hospital or healthcare facility is in the path of a hurricane, they may be evacuated and patients taken safely elsewhere. But if most facilities are already full, where do the evacuated patients go? How do you safely move coronavirus patients, especially those on ventilators?

Aid, Resources, and Businesses. Once a hurricane hits, nearby counties or states often provide aid to officials; everything from additional food and supplies to emergency personnel or rescue operations. However, all levels of government are dealing with a pandemic and are low on resources and financial aid. Will you be able to depend on county/state/federal aid? If not, how can you procure extra resources? For small to mid-sized businesses, especially those who shut down due to the pandemic, how will they be able to foot the bill for another disaster? Will they have the means to prepare – both physically, such as boarding up the building, and financially, such as paying staff?

This is a unique situation that living generations haven’t faced before: hurricane season during a pandemic. Resources all around the country are stretched thin, the public is already stressed financially and mentally, and several organizations are expecting an above-average season. It’s important – now more than ever – that families, businesses, and governmental officials review their hurricane plans and adjust accordingly.

Learn more about pandemic-related insights and organizational resilience with the Resilience Toolkit.