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Hurricane 2020: COVID-19 will impact your hurricane preparations | Column

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council says the pandemic makes it more important than ever to plan for a major storm.

Planning for hurricane season has never been so complicated, with the COVID-19 crisis impacting everything from when stores are open to hotel closures that could affect your evacuation plans if a major storm is heading our way.

Still, one overarching fact remains constant: It’s critically important to plan early, so you can have all your needed supplies in hand, along with a good idea of what you’ll do if a hurricane is approaching.

Related: Hurricane 2020: Seven things to know about a hurricane season like no other

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, with a peak in September, and by all indications, COVID-19 will be a part of our lives for much, if not all, of this timeframe. And though it’s easy to be distracted by all the news related to the crisis, now is the time to think about getting ready for the possibility that a major storm could head our way.

Sean Sullivan is executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. [Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council]

The Tampa Bay area has been fortunate for decades in this regard, so it’s easy to forget that we are one of the most vulnerable areas of the country for storm impacts. We have a combination of coastline and dense urban populations that creates numerous potential challenges related to such issues as flooding, crowded evacuation routes and loss of power.

With this in mind, here are some factors to consider as we plan for the 2020 hurricane season in the time of the coronavirus:

  • Home improvement stores and grocery stores remain open, so stock up now on needed supplies. Think about what you’ll need if the power goes out (flashlights, batteries and non-perishable foods come to mind), if you need to board up the house (plywood, cut to sizes that will fit over your windows), and if you decide to evacuate (snacks, bottled water, cooler).
  • Think differently about your options for evacuation. Some hotels are closed, so now would be a good time to determine where you might stay if you decide to go north along Interstate 75, or northeast along I-4 and I-95. Also, know your evacuation routes, so you won’t need to spend time studying evacuation route maps as a storm draws near.
  • Think of a hurricane shelter as a last resort. If you have relied on shelters in your past planning, that may be fine, but if you are part of the most vulnerable population for COVID-19, know that social distancing may not be possible at a shelter during a major storm. So if you are over 65 and/or have underlying health issues, it would be smart to think of other options.
  • If your yard has tall trees, make sure their branches are not too close to your home. If they are, hire a landscape company or tree service to trim them. These companies are continuing to work during the crisis, since they work outdoors and can practice social distancing.
  • We are spending a lot of time at home with our family, so make use of the time to work up a hurricane plan. Among the questions you should consider: How will everyone keep in touch during a storm? Does everyone agree on when you should evacuate and where you would consider going? And have you designated a safe place in the home to retreat to if you aren’t able to evacuate?
Related: A hurricane during the pandemic would be bad. The economic crisis will make things worse.

To sum up, take the time now to gather the information you’ll need. A series of vicious tornadoes this spring around the South has served as a powerful reminder that we can never take a year off from getting prepared.

If a major storm approaches, you will be glad you made advance plans: Decisions sometimes need to be made quickly in these situations, so it’s no time to be starting the process of gathering key information.

In Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, check your county’s website for information on how to get your county’s hurricane guide, which includes lists of key resources along with maps showing evacuation zones.

And if you live in Citrus, Hernando, Manatee or Sarasota counties, check your county’s website for where to find hurricane guides, or go to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s website, www.tbrpc.org, since the Planning Council supplies the guides in those four counties.

Sean Sullivan is the executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Protect your home, business, documents and photos

BUILD YOUR KIT: The gear you need to stay safe from the storm — and COVID-19

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

Lessons from Hurricane Michael

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind

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