As Florida is in the midst of the 2020 hurricane season, Sunshine State residents age 50-plus are facing a new level of uncertainty: Never in modern history have older Floridians had to consider how to plan for the disruption and danger of a hurricane while also juggling concerns about a pandemic.
“We are in uncharted waters,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP’s Florida state director. “There are many elements of our usual hurricane-preparation routines that we’re going to have to consider changing.”
“But one thing is very much the same – the need to prepare now for hurricanes,” Johnson said. “Never has the need for advance preparation been clearer. Don’t take this hurricane season lightly.”
Johnson cited several issues that may need a new approach because of the coronavirus pandemic:
Evacuation plans: For years, AARP Florida has encouraged Floridians to make a plan for where they’d go if they needed to evacuate their homes ahead of a hurricane. Now it’s important to recognize that hotel facilities in some parts of the state may be closed or operating with reduced staff because of the pandemic. It’s best to make a plan and call ahead to ensure that you will have the ability to find accommodations if needed.
Also, be prepared to protect yourself from coronavirus while you travel. Take several cloth or other masks along, so you can change masks if needed. Disinfect touch surfaces, such as gas pump control screens and gas pump handles, before and after touching them. And wash or sanitize your hands often.
Basic storm preparations: It’s long been standard practice for Floridians to prepare two kits as hurricane season begins – a “Stay Kit” so they are prepared if they choose to ride out a storm at home and a “Go Kit” if they need to evacuate in the face of a major storm.
AARP Florida for years has provided checklists for “Stay” and “Go” kits.
But now there are new additions to the list: Include alcohol-based sanitizing wipes, several cloth masks, a small bottle of bleach and nitrile or latex rubber gloves in both kits. You may need them as you travel.
Sheltering at home or with friends or family: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued new guidance, urging Americans to consider sheltering in place or evacuating to the homes of friends or family members outside the storm area. The CDC guidance recognizes that in the midst of a pandemic, there will be some risk of spreading infection in a public hurricane shelter.
If you decide a shelter is the safest option in a major hurricane, you should observe social-distancing rules while there, including remaining at least six feet apart, wearing a cloth face covering and frequently washing your hands. The CDC is warning local emergency-management officials that opening a large shelter – one holding more than 50 people – should be considered a last resort. CDC guidance also recommends that you quarantine yourself at home after leaving the shelter, in case you may have become infected while there.
Among the most important steps to take in advance of a storm is to consider whether you should register for a special needs shelter registry, Johnson noted.
“If you need special assistance during hurricanes and other disasters with evacuations and sheltering due to physical or mental disabilities, it is very important to register with your local county emergency management agency to receive assistance during a disaster,” Johnson said.
First responders use the special-needs registry as a valuable reference when planning where to place special needs shelters in advance of hurricanes and other emergencies. They also use the registry to check on Floridians in the aftermath of a storm.
If you need to register, please go the website Florida Special Needs Registry, select your county of residence and follow the instructions to register. There is also important information and local resources you may want to review as you register. If your loved one is living with dementia or is otherwise unable to register, you can register them as their caregiver. Regardless of where you live in Florida, you only need to register once, using the link at the start of this paragraph.
AARP Florida will be updating our disaster-preparedness website as the hurricane season progress, Johnson noted. If you use Facebook, you may also want to check our AARP Florida Facebook page, where we regularly post about updated information.
“Forecasters are telling us to prepare for an active hurricane season in 2020,” Johnson said. “The old saying still applies: Prepare for a storm on a sunny day. Now’s the time to make your plan, check your ‘Stay’ and ‘Go’ kit and get ready for whatever this hurricane season brings us.”
Sponsored by AARP.