Hurricane season is just weeks away, and soon enough Floridians could have to contemplate the pros and cons of evacuation.
Category 4 and 5 storms, once a rarity, are increasingly more common, with last decade’s Hurricanes Matthew, Irma, and Michael wreaking havoc.
In the year of COVID-19, some of those who evacuated or gone to shelters in the past may want to just ride it out at home, said Jared Moskowitz, head of the state’s Division of Emergency Management Wednesday in Miami.
“Obviously, as we get into hurricane season, we are continuing obviously to look at our plans, redevelop them, with COVID-19,” Moskowitz said.
“How do we look at evacuations? How do we do that? Do we have stay-at-home orders and mandatory evacuations based on the type of structure you have?”
“We always talk about ‘know your zone’,” Moskowitz said. “Now also it’s really ‘know your home’.”
People in homes built after 2002, Moskowitz suggested, “perhaps don’t have to evacuate, depending on the strength of the storm.”
Moskowitz offered no details as to how strong a forecast might require en masse movement from areas in harm’s way.
He also addressed the logistics of “mass congregant” shelters, which aren’t exactly conducive to social distancing.
“Protocols,” including temperature checks and separating people, are options.
“Perhaps we go away from that completely,” Moskowitz said, “and go to non-congregant sheltering in hotels.”
Moskowitz added “we have been talking to FEMA almost daily about that plan,” describing the federal agency as a “real partner.”
Time is of the essence, Moskowitz noted, spotlighting the potential for “an earlier storm in June or July,” even as most notable Florida storms come in late-August, September, and early October.
Moskowitz has advocated fresh thinking on hurricane response for some time, as comments to the Reopen Florida Task Force suggested.
“Additionally, we’re not going to see the same level of volunteers. How are we going to accommodate? Well, perhaps we turn to crazy solutions, like going to teachers, going to state employees, and turning to folks that might be unemployed… and employ them, to take on jobs in hurricane season to help us,” he said last month.
“Usually when we have a big event, you’re talking about 10,000 volunteers come forward. We just don’t believe we are going to see that,” Moskowitz added.
Expectations in 2020 are for an above-average hurricane season in the Atlantic basin, one likely to be abetted by water temperatures that stayed warm throughout the winter.