Connect with us

Headlines

Craig Fugate talks hurricane effects on schools in COVID-19 era

Getting schools online soon after hurricanes will be a more pressing priority.

Emergency response experts hope to expand the number of shelters and to minimize clustering this hurricane season in an effort to protect against COVID-19 and get schools up and running.

During The Southern Group’s virtual education conference, the former head of FEMA and the Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM), Craig Fugate, shared how the global pandemic will affect school campuses, primary sheltering sites, during and after hurricanes.

“Anytime we move people from one area of the state to another, anytime we’re interacting with the public, all the things we’re going to see in a disaster, one person in the wrong circumstances spreading COVID-19 could cause a blowup,” Fugate said. “And in a disaster, it would be even worse because of the impacts to health care and other already stressed industries.”

To mitigate the virus’ spread and promote social distancing, experts are looking into more shelters with smaller capacities but larger footprints. That means more schools will be asked to convert into shelters in a disaster.

But with fewer total people allowed in public shelters, the key will be not turning people away, according to documents from FEMA, the Red Cross and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster coalition.

One option, Fugate says, is to turn on FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance, which puts people up in hotels and motels traditionally if it’s unsafe to return home after a disaster. Proactively opening stays in the lodging industry will reduce the demand on shelters and schools.

“We actually have, kind of an unusual situation, a lot of vacancies in hotels and motels across the state that would not normally be there during the peak of hurricane season,” he said. “So this seems to be a very viable option to be able to, at least for higher risk — particularly elderly, preexisting conditions or people who have had exposures — going straight to a hotel or motel. But I don’t think we get out of schools as primary shelters.”

Hurricane season technically begins June 1, but the first named storm has already come and gone.

One of the keys after any recovery is getting schools back open, Fugate said, now a consultant and chief emergency management officer at One Concern. Apart from getting campuses open, the pandemic necessitates getting communication online, too.

Following Hurricane Michael, the Panhandle suffered communication outages for weeks.

“This is one of the situations where just getting schools open won’t be enough,” Fugate said. “I think we also have to really emphasize how restoration of the digital infrastructure will impact getting students back online and classes back up if we’re still doing that.”

COVID-19 is changing the state’s hurricane response plans in other ways, too. DEM is preparing to do more contact tracing and testing during an evacuation and add masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to suggested hurricane kits.

“Wearing those masks is not a statement of freedom. It’s about courtesy and protecting others,” Fugate said. “It is the one thing that we could do now to help minimize or help reduce the spread.”

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering the Texas House of Representatives for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Connect
Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.