Pandemic adds hurdle in planning for hurricane season, but acting early can help

Last week’s flooding throughout parts of St. Charles Parish brought with it an unwelcome reminder that COVID-19 does not bring with it a ceasefire with regard to other unfortunate events. It, in most instances, only complicates things further.

Almost certainly, among the last things the average local would like to think about these days are hurricanes. But with the added wrinkle of coronavirus thrown into the mix this year, that might well be what people already should be doing even well ahead of the heart of hurricane season.

According to Joe Ganote, St. Charles Parish Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, a little bit of preparation now can eliminate a lot of headache down the line.

“You can simplify things by planning,” Ganote said. “Be more prepared than you would if there wasn’t COVID. If I’m going to evacuate my family … do we go to a hotel? Do I need my own PPE? How do you social distance if you leave your home? Are we going to have a spike of cases at that point or are we going to be on a downslope? There’s no way to know that now, but you can start to make those decisions early and make a plan for each scenario.”

The parish’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) stays plugged in to the news, projections and predictions of experts leading into each hurricane season. Ganote said COVID-19 adds another layer to the planning process.

Joe Ganote

“Obviously with the pandemic, it’s going to be different. A lot has to do with sheltering and evacuation and cohorting patients … identifying who has or has had COVID-19, and how we’re going to handle it,” Ganote said, adding statewide discussions have been ongoing on that subject.  We’re always moving forward all the time with preparations, expecting to have a hurricane, so this just makes one more thing to plan for.”

For those who evacuate their homes but need localized shelter, the challenge will be determining the best way to ensure parish residents not only get to safety, but stay as safe as possible while a storm passes.

“It’s incumbent on us to have enough PPE for them and to be able to triage people at our assisted evacuation points,” Ganote said.

For the EOC, vigilance on the matter is a way of life. For the average person, maybe not: for every significant storm a resident has experienced, he or she may be able to recount several others where reality didn’t meet the “hype.” Ganote said while that may be true, the cost of being wrong in such a circumstance isn’t worth it. The danger for some, likewise, may be that mental fatigue over COVID-19 might lead them to kick the can down the road when it comes to getting ready.

“We talk every year about complacency,” Ganote said. “We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had to evacuate, knock on wood … a lot of people, I think, have been even more in tune because of COVID, and they’re asking questions about what the protocol should be. But for others, maybe they’re thinking, ‘Well, I just got off lockdown, I’ll worry about it in August. We’ve had a storm pop up already in the Caribbean, here we are in May, and we’re starting to get active already.”

Those set on staying, he said, should be sure to have enough resources to survive for three days and understand outside services may be limited following a major storm scenario.

“But we always encourage people in those cases … just go,” Ganote said. “If you come home and your house is dry? Great, you had a two-day vacation.”

As for the storm season projections, Ganote says early on, it appears we could be in for a busy one. Citing Colorado State University as producing the most consistent and accurate year-to-year predictions, Ganote said they project 16 storms, including eight hurricanes – four of those major.

“The next prediction comes out June 4, and historically the projection always seems to increase by a couple. It usually won’t go backwards,” Ganote said. “We’ve had a crazy 2020 anyway, and I’m planning for a busy season.”


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