How to Shelter From a Storm During a Pandemic


Illustration for article titled How to Shelter From a Storm During a Pandemic
Photo: Leonard the food guy (Shutterstock)

An “extremely active” hurricane season occurring in the midst of a global pandemic sounds like the plot of a late-1990s disaster movie, but it’s 2020, so it’s our current reality. Earlier this month, New York City and other parts of the east coast got a taste of this double-disaster situation when Tropical Storm Isaias ripped through several states, leaving at least nine people dead and millions without power.

Dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster is complicated in the best of times, but now’s really not a great time to be without electricity or water, or injured or stranded in a flood. And then there’s the matter of sheltering both during and and perhaps after the storm: As we learned from Hurricane Katrina and other massive storms, the conditions in crowded shelters are ideal for the spread of infectious disease—and again, that’s was true when we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic.

Now that hurricane season is well underway, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Weather Service (NWS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have collaborated on a set of guidelines to help you stay safe while weathering both a storm and the pandemic. Here’s what you should know.

Be prepared

Those who live in a coastal areas prone to hurricanes or other parts of the country that regularly experience tornadoes and strong storms should already have an emergency plan in place, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) National Warning Coordination Meteorologist Chris Maier tells Lifehacker.

“Everyone should have a plan [for hurricanes] if you live anywhere along the coast,” he explains. “Part of that plan is to know your evacuation route, and to mitigate for the hazards with your property as best as you can.”

This also involves having an emergency go-kit packed and ready to go. (We covered this in more depth here.) If you have one already packed from previous seasons, double check to make sure everything you need is still there (and hasn’t expired)—and add some hand sanitizer, masks, gloves or any other PPE you think would be helpful. And don’t forget to include your pets in your emergency plan.

Don’t wait too long to take action

With so much else going on right now, it might be tempting to minimize the danger of an incoming hurricane, but that’s not a good idea. “Know when to take action,” Maier explains. “Because if you wait too long and are stuck in the storm, it could become a life-threatening situation.” Your best bet for getting the most accurate weather information and evacuation instructions, he explains, is by watching or listening to your local news to receive the guidelines for your area.

Evacuate, if necessary

If you know that you’re going to have to evacuate and have enough time to do so, it’s possible to stay with friends or family until the storm passes, according to CDC guidelines—just make sure you clear it with them first (and give them an out if they’re not comfortable with it). And like any houseguest situation right now, all the usual COVID-19 precautions (physical distancing when possible, frequent hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, etc.) still very much apply.

But not everyone has somewhere to go, so spending time in a public shelter may be the safest option. Understandably, some people may be apprehensive about being packed into an enclosed building during a pandemic—and rightfully so. Like most difficult decisions, this comes down to weighing potential risks and benefits (staying safe from a storm, but potentially exposing yourself or others to COVID-19 or other infectious diseases).

“The bottom line is that if we have a major hurricane bearing down on the coast, you have to take action for the hurricane—within the CDC guidelines as best as possible,” Maier explains. “In most shelters, emergency managers are ensuring that those guidelines are being met their best abilities—like making sure people in the shelter have their face coverings on.”

In addition to face masks, the other recommendations include avoiding any high-touch surfaces and—perhaps the biggest challenge—staying physically distant from others in the shelter (outside the people you normally live with). If you start to feel sick while in the shelter, tell a member of the staff immediately and they’ll let you know what the procedure for handling the situation is in that particular location.