As we enter this year’s hurricane season, our nation has been battling a raging storm of a different type for the past five months – Coronavirus (COVID-19). The Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) community has tirelessly worked to provide care, move resources, and identify measures for treatment and prevention. With the first official day of the 2020 Atlantic and Pacific hurricane season on June 1, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting above-normal storm activity, the HPH community must look at how to prepare for a unique hurricane response season.
To support emergency managers and public health officials better prepare for all-hazards disasters, while continue to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, FEMA has released the COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season.
Disaster support personnel will be working in a much different environment than they typically see during hurricane season. Response teams should be prepared to lead scalable and flexible response operations, and acknowledge that many aspects of disaster response may be conducted remotely this year. Organizations and communities throughout the nation are embracing adjustments to account for the realities and risks that COVID-19 brings to hurricane season.
For example, plans may look different this year for procuring and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to workforce members, first responders, search and rescue teams, logistics support, and field health and medical professionals. Additionally, enhanced safety measures including health screenings, facility cleaning and disinfection measures, and social distancing requirements for onsite individuals will need to be considered.
Although social distancing will be difficult for onsite individuals during hurricane recovery, every effort should be made to follow social distancing guidelines as possible to help prevent further complications during recovery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains updated guidance and social distancing requirements for COVID-19 that can be accessed by entities and individuals.
Preparation is the best way for communities to stay safe during hurricane season. COVID-19 has introduced the need for extra precautions for individuals and organizations to consider. Disaster supply kits including medications, batteries, water, and food, may now include personal disinfectant and protective items like hand soap, sanitizer, and face coverings and gloves.
In past hurricane seasons, the collaboration of public and private sector leadership through mechanisms such as ASPR’s HPH Sector, FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operations Center, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Cross Sector Council are key.
These public-private collaborations have been regularly occurring to coordinate the COVID-19 response and include resource sharing, bi-directional information sharing, and advanced action implementation that mitigated the severity of impacts to the nation’s health systems and operations. We see these collaborations continuing into the summer, with, conversations expanding to include identification of threats, challenges, and needs that may be exacerbated in the face of a hurricane or natural disaster.
The National Hurricane Center is an important source of information to stay aware of developing and approaching storms. The ASPR Technical Resources, Information Exchange and Assistance Center (better known as ASPR TRACIE) is a useful free resource for healthcare responders including best practices and plans. The ASPR Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection produces multiple communication bulletins to provide HPH stakeholders with information, resources, and tools to optimize their abilities to respond, recover, and prepare for threats and incidents impacting the nation’s health critical infrastructure. For more information on how to engage or become a member of the HPH Sector, contact firstname.lastname@example.org; and join the HPH Sector Highlights listservs today.