County emergency officials prepare for hurricane season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

County emergency officials prepare for hurricane season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic
County emergency officials prepare for hurricane season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic (Source: Jason Raven)

LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - We’re just a few weeks away from the start of Hurricane Season.

According to a forecast from Colorado State University, they are predicting an above-normal Atlantic Hurricane season in 2020.

Here in South Carolina, state and county emergency officials are currently working on finalizing their hurricane plans for this year. Officials are gearing up for hurricane season while dealing with a global pandemic.

Brandon Ellis is the Director of Emergency Management for Georgetown County. He said, "Our number one goal is to ensure public safety -- whether it's a pandemic or a hurricane. Or even if we have to couple both of those together."

County officials we spoke with said all options are still on the table. They are working closely with the state and their partners on adapting their plans.

Mario Formisano is the Director of Emergency Management for Dorchester County. He said, "In this new world of social distancing we're having to re-look at some of those plans from a procedural standpoint."

According to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, more than 400,000 people evacuated from the coast last September because of Hurricane Dorian. About 2,5000 people stayed at 36 emergency shelters statewide.

County officials said evacuation procedures and shelter guidelines will most likely be tweaked.

Jason Patno is the Charleston County Emergency Management Director. He said, "Finding suitable space for our population that does not have the means or ability to evacuate has always been a challenge. It's going to be more of a challenge in light of COVID-19."

Patno said the county is meeting this week to solidify their hurricane plan.

Because of social distancing guidelines, the American Red Cross of South Carolina said counties need to prepare for a decrease in shelter capacity. Ben Williamson with the Red Cross said if the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing during hurricane season -- counties might need to open more shelters than they normally do.

"Our first option is to work with counties to identify hotels, dormitories, even some campgrounds where we can put people to keep them socially isolated," he said.

Williamson also said if emergency shelters need to be opened, there will be protocols in place to avoid the possible spread of the coronavirus. He said evacuees could be screened and everyone at the shelter would be required to wear a mask.

According to Williamson, "We may have to open more shelters because our shelter capacity may go down because we want to be able to spread people out. How close we put our cots will be different in a COVID-19 environment. We'll have to spread those out more than we're used to."

The State Emergency Management Division said they will release any updated to their Hurricane Plan during South Carolina’s Hurricane Preparedness Week, which takes place from May 31st to June 6th.

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