Between dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and early indications of an especially active hurricane season, University of Georgia experts urge citizens to prepare early and remain prepared for weather-related emergencies.
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season is off to a record-setting start, according to climatologist Pam Knox, who is also director of the UGA Weather Network for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. She says to expect another 10 or so named storms and five to nine hurricanes as the season progresses.
“Since one out of four storms directly affects the southeast, Georgia is likely to see more storm activity as the season ramps up later this summer and fall,” she said. “The season officially ends on Nov. 30, but in an active year it is not unusual to get storms that occur in December.”
Knox and other UGA Cooperative Extension faculty are encouraging careful preparation for weather-related emergencies with the additional impacts of COVID-19.
“It’s important to assess your property, including trees, and take care of any issues before storms arise. Make a plan for your family and business and back up important records,” she said.
Added precautions during a pandemic
Making evacuation plans, stocking up on supplies and planning for social distancing are all important factors to consider or reassess.
“Develop your plans early — you don’t have room to improvise this year — and have more than one plan,” said Chatham County Extension Coordinator Tim Davis, who remains behind during storms to help at the local Emergency Management Authority. He recommends planning to evacuate farther than usual, if possible, due to limitations on space and availability of transportation.
“Everything you’re going to do, you need to think about COVID-19. You need to think about evacuating sooner, farther and for longer. Shelters are going to have a reduced capacity due to social distancing. The ability to transport people will also be limited. Keep your gas tanks full and your vehicle everyday carry supplies on hand,” he said.
If evacuation plans include another person’s residence, social distancing and potential isolation should be considered. “It’d be nice to have a house that has a part for you and a part of them,” said Davis. “If someone gets sick, have a place to isolate them.”
And if you’re still having an issue finding supplies now, during or after a severe storm will likely be much worse, he says.
“Supplies are already limited, and when a hurricane comes along, the shelves empty out very quickly. You need to think very far ahead and get everything you need, so when that storm forms you can be calm and collected because you’re ready,” he added. “I think our ability to resupply is also going to be limited. We always say three days to a week, but I think you probably need longer than that this year. And if you’re planning on staying, which is usually a bad decision, you need to be prepared for a longer recovery response.”
Recommended items to add to emergency preparedness kits in light of COVID-19 include additional face coverings, hand soap, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, disinfectant wipes and disposable gloves.
Preparing children for added stress
Don’t forget any items that could help children cope with stress and make a plan that will follow their normal schedule as much as possible, said Diane Bales, associate professor and Extension specialist in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. Child-specific tasks might include preparing clothes or toys.
“Preparing children helps to reduce fear, anxiety and panic, all of which can be very challenging,” she said. “We also want to build their confidence and competence, so they know what to do and feel confident they can do it. We’re also hoping to build in an appropriate sense of control.”
During a severe storm, use simple language to explain what is happening. Include why you’re doing activities such as boarding up windows or evacuating. Additionally, reassure children that you or another trusted adult will be alongside them, said Bales, because they rely on attachment figures like parents and other family members for comfort and stability.
“We worry for children especially about the long-term dangers of being under this stress. A persistent hyperarousal, meaning they are always high alert, makes impulse control difficult and makes important higher-order thinking more difficult. Children who have been under stress long term can have more difficulty with decision-making, with reasoning at school, with relationships.”
Why do children respond differently to hurricanes and other emergencies? They have a hard time knowing the difference between what they imagine is going on and what is actually going on.
“Younger children especially have an inability to recognize danger. They also have limited experience in general, and limited coping skills because they have not had the opportunity to develop them yet,” explained Bales. “Children also process things in bits and pieces and may ask the same question repeatedly. Some children may not want to ask questions or talk about their feelings at all.”
UGA Extension has many publications and resources on weather preparedness and recovery available at t.uga.edu/6dV. Timely weather information is also posted on Knox’s blog at site.extension.uga.edu/climate.