Virus prompts changes for hurricane evacuation shelters

New requirements will be in place at Hawaii’s hurricane evacuation shelters, should they need to be used amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a far different year,” American Red Cross Regional Disaster Officer Maria Lutz said Wednesday during an online press conference for the 2020 Central Pacific hurricane season outlook.

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With the advent of COVID-19, the organization is adjusting the state’s hurricane evacuation shelter strategy to incorporate mitigation measures.

“Red Cross will be working together with county emergency management and public health to create a shelter environment that can support social distancing,” said Lutz.

Other measures that will be adopted include frequent cleaning and disinfecting of common areas and requiring masks to be worn. “If people do not have masks, they will be supplied masks if they have to come to a hurricane evacuation shelter,” Lutz said.

Health screenings and temperature checks will also be performed before people are permitted entry. Should a person present with a fever, they will not be denied shelter.

“We’re going to designate one room to be an isolation room within the shelter. The person will be directed to that room and will be seen by a nurse there and monitored,” Lutz explained. “That’s one strategy for doing it. Of course, each county may come up slightly different strategies.”

Like always, anyone using hurricane evacuation shelter should be prepared because the facilities provide little to no supplies or services. Key items, according to Lutz, are: water (1 gallon per person, per day), shelf-stable or canned foods, life-saving medications and a blanket.

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“Please make sure you have these key items for your sustenance and your comfort,” said Lutz, explaining a storm can limit access to supplies, including water in the event of a power outage. “We want to make sure that people have access to what they need to survive.”

A number of facilities on Hawaii Island are designated as hurricane shelters. In case of a hurricane, announcements will be made listing which shelters are being opened by Hawaii County Civil Defense. Residents should identify two to three shelters within close proximity of their home if they are unable to shelter in place.

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