COURT HOUSE - If evacuations are required during the upcoming hurricane season, the county Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is expecting several procedures to be different because of the COVID-19 crisis.
However, the real concern, according to Marty Pugliughi, OEM coordinator, is whether people will want to evacuate to general population shelters.
“We’ve been getting a lot of guidance from the Centers for Disease and Prevention Control (CDC), the Red Cross, and state Office of Emergency Management, so we are reviewing everything we are getting to see what we should be doing,” Pugliughi said. “We also are getting feedback from the areas where the tornadoes have already hit during this pandemic to see what’s worked and what’s not worked for the general population shelters."
“We know how to prepare for a hurricane,” he pointed out, “so now it’s preparing for one during a pandemic. How this plays out will depend on how severe the storm is, and when it hits. It also depends on how high the storm surge is because, for us, that is often the concern.”
The county uses four locations for general population shelters: the Woodbine Developmental Center, the Upper Township Middle School, on Perry Road, the Upper Township Elementary School, on Tuckahoe Road, and the Middle Township Elementary School 2, on West Pacific Avenue.
The schools have been closed due to the virus since March 18. The Woodbine Developmental Center has been the scene of at least 87 positive COVID-19 cases and five related deaths.
“At the developmental center, we have a separate building that is used for emergency shelter,” Pugliughi said. “We will work with the Department of Human Services if we need to use the facility for shelter, see what their numbers are like at that time of year (during hurricane season).”
Pugliughi expects that the school buildings will be sanitized and cleaned before and after any shelter needs. The emergency management coordinator said he expects that anyone using the shelters will need to wear a face mask, will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, and will have their temperature taken before entering the building.
If anyone shows symptoms or has a temperature, they will be directed to one facility that will be designated as a special quarantine shelter. They have not yet decided which facility that will be.
Also, plans are already underway on how cots can be placed to allow for social distancing, he said.
“We’ve ordered digital thermometers, and I expect that we will have help from our Medical Reserve Corps volunteers,” Pugliughi added. “We have been buying face masks to be prepared for storm season, as well.”
“Identify your risk now,” stressed Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA. “Be aware of whether you are in an evacuation zone and make your plan now for where you want to go to be safe and comfortable. If going to a shelter is not comfortable for you, then make plans to go to family or friends outside the evacuation zone.
“Natural disasters won’t wait, so I encourage you to keep COVID-19 in mind when revising or making your plan for you and your loved ones, and don’t forget your pets,” he added.
To help residents prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1-Nov. 30, Pugliughi said they will publish information in local newspapers and Facebook and use a reverse 911 system to alert residents.
In the meantime, residents should prepare themselves with non-perishable food items, water, batteries and flashlights, among other supplies.
“If you’ve been buying toilet paper and water and other items for the virus, being prepared for a hurricane is no different,” he said.
Also, officials recommend planning an evacuation route now to be prepared rather than waiting for when the hurricane hits, creating an inventory of personal property, reviewing home insurance policies, and protecting your home and business. Additional information can be found at the county’s OEM website, at capemaycountynj.gov/163/Planning-for-Emergency.
“We will keep our fingers crossed about this year’s hurricane season,” Pugliughi added. “All of this pandemic is new for us, so we are taking our guidance from every place we can to accumulate information and be ready.”
To contact Karen Knight, email email@example.com.