Seminole County emergency manager explains hurricane preparation during pandemic

Shelter capacity will be limited

Hurricane shelters need to adjust to housing people during pandemic

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County Emergency Manager Alan Harris said the county will be handling hurricane preparedness differently this year due to COVID-19.

Harris explained they are ready to open a lot more shelters if a hurricane were to make landfall but capacity will be limited due to social distancing.

“During a normal shelter activity, our largest shelter houses around 2,000 people. Our smallest shelter houses about 300 people. We will be seeing 300 in the largest shelter so that tells you how many more we have to have,” Harris explained.

Harris said there will be more security and additional enhanced medical services at the shelters. 

He also suggested people should consider avoiding shelters if they can and leave it as a last resort. 

"If there's any other place to go this year, go there. Now is the time to figure out a friend or a family member. The absolute last thing you should do this hurricane season is go to an emergency shelter," Harris said. 

Another challenge will be COVID-19 testing. Harris said sites will most likely shut down during a hurricane. 

"Immediately after, we will start those up as quickly as possible which means we could get a huge spike because we are not going to know who's positive and who's negative for about a week or so," he said. 

Those with special needs, Harris said they should register at the local emergency management office so space can be available for them at the shelter. 

“Persons with special needs, we have made accommodations for individuals. We understand they have to go to a shelter. They require oxygen and electricity,” Harris said.

Harris also recommends people should buy hurricane supplies sooner rather than later because stores could run out of supplies as the pandemic continues. 

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Orange County residents have until Thursday to take advantage of the free self-serve sandbag program. Click here for details.

About the Author:

Ezzy Castro is a multimedia journalist on News 6's morning team who has a passion for telling the stories of the people in the Central Florida community. Ezzy worked at WFOR CBS4 in South Florida and KBMT in Beaumont, Texas, where she covered Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Being from Miami, Ezzy loves Cuban coffee and croquetas!