Orlando-area nurses prepare for active hurricane season

Special needs shelters need to be staffed during storms

SANFORD, Fla. – Nurses are preparing ahead of what is expected to be another active hurricane season.

"We prepare all year round," said Sarah Wright, the executive community health nursing director for the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County.

Wright said every nurse in the building knows that when a hurricane threatens Central Florida they need to staff the special needs shelters. 

These shelters are specifically designed to help people who are oxygen dependent, need electricity for medical equipment and need medical assistance with medications. The nurses also isolate people with mental health needs, such as Alzheimer’s disease or autism.

"So we strategically place them if they are wheelchair dependent, we make sure that we put them near the restroom, " Wright said. 

The special needs shelters are set up inside a variety of selected buildings, including schools, community centers and churches. Each shelter is staffed to provide beds for about 100 people, and in some cases pets. 

"We start triaging in the street, right outside. When they come by buses we triage in the bus," Wright said. 

Wright said every year they learn how to better prepare for the next storm. Last year presented some new challenges. 

"Because of (Hurricane) Harvey in Texas, clients thought that we were going to get hit just as hard or harder, so it was a different kind of feel than (Hurricane) Matthew. Folks came prepared, they brought their life possessions with them,” Wright said. 

She said one of the biggest challenges for people waiting out the storm is fearing the unknown. 

"Clients fearing for their homes, for maybe their loved ones, for their pets that are in the pet shelter, so we let them visit them," Wright said. 

In extreme cases, the nurses have to be prepared to evacuate an entire shelter. 

"One of the nurses had that experience, where they had to evacuate, and so what you do is you call the emergency operations center, they call transportation, they get school buses, the police come, EMS come," Wright said. "That is definitely something that we thought about during Irma because we were having some generator problems, we were having some electrical problems."

About the Author: