Preparing for a natural disaster takes careful planning under ordinary circumstances. Now, with the country still reeling from the impact of COVID-19, these preparations can seem nearly impossible. Is it safe to stay with friends during an evacuation? Can you shop for staples during a pandemic? Is it OK to accept donations of food and clothing from strangers?
So many questions, but we’ve got answers! Here’s all you need to know about weathering a natural disaster during COVID-19.
Prepare your home
If you live in an area that is prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, wildfires or earthquakes, it’s best to take steps to protect your property well before a disaster strikes. If you're unsure what to prepare for, look over the past year to see which events you may expect from living in your area.
First, review your home insurance policy and consider purchasing additional protection if necessary.
Next, check your alarms and other safety devices. Make sure your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are in full working order and that each floor of your home has a fire extinguisher, as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.
If you don’t feel sufficiently prepared, you may want to install additional safety devices, such as a water alarm to notify you when water levels in the basement and/or ground floor of your home are higher than usual. Check valves are another kind of water-alert device that prevents floodwaters from backing up into the drains of your home.
Your next step will be securing your home and knowing what steps you'll need to take if you are able to receive warning of a disaster. Check your home for loose shingles and weak supportive walls, which can provide strong winds with access to your home. Cover external air conditioning units with a secured tarp and make sure there are no loose-hanging branches near your home. If you haven’t invested in storm doors and windows, consider boarding them up before the storm. It’s also a good idea to clean your gutters, flue pipes and awnings.
Your final protective step will be securing the objects that are inside your home. Fasten all loose shelves, store heavy objects on low shelves and remove pictures and mirrors from sitting and sleeping areas.
Stock your home
Stock your home with an adequate supply of non-perishable food, water, medicine and other staples. It’s important to remember that you may need more time to shop this year because many stores are allowing only a limited number of shoppers inside at a time and it may take more than one trip to find what you're looking for. The CDC recommends using home delivery if possible. If you must shop in person, remember to follow basic COVID-19 guidelines, including masking up when in stores and keeping a 6-foot distance from other shoppers.
Review your emergency plan and prepare to evacuate
Once your home is prepared and well-stocked for the disaster, review your emergency plan, which should include a clear procedure for your household to follow in case evacuation becomes necessary.
You may need to make some adjustments to your emergency plan to make it work for COVID-19. For example, an emergency evacuation kit during COVID-19 should have a sufficient supply of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and face coverings. You’ll also need to check if the public shelter in your area is open at this time, or if it has moved to a new location to accommodate social distancing guidelines. As always, follow guidance from local public health officials when determining when to evacuate and where to find shelter.
If evacuation becomes necessary, the CDC cautions evacuees to follow safety measures for travelers.
Staying safe while in a public shelter
If your evacuation plans include a stay in a public shelter, follow these guidelines from the CDC to protect yourself from COVID-19:
- Practice social distancing.
- Follow the CDC’s COVID-19 preventive actions, which include washing your hands often and covering all coughs and sneezes.
- Follow shelter policies for wearing a face covering.
- If possible, avoid sharing food and drink with other evacuees.
- Avoid touching high-contact surfaces as much as possible. Wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after touching such surfaces.
- Keep your living area in the shelter clean. Disinfect all high-touch items such as toys, mobile devices and other electronics.
- If you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, alert the shelter staff immediately.
Staying safe with family or friends
If your emergency plans include a stay with extended family or friends, the CDC recommends the following safety measures:
- If either of your households has someone who is considered high-risk or more vulnerable to COVID-19, make sure everyone in the home knows to take extra precautions to keep them safe.
- Be extra cautious about covering coughs and sneezes and washing your hands often.
- Have a clear plan to follow in case someone in the household becomes infected with COVID-19.
- Stay safe after a disaster.
During the recovery process from a natural disaster, it’s important to continue following the CDC COVID-19 guidelines listed above. Be sure to adhere to social distancing mandates and wear a face covering when assisting with cleanup after a disaster. If you plan to accept food and clothing donations from others, it’s best to first clean them with a disinfectant wipe or to open them while wearing disposable gloves and to discard the packaging.
Weathering a storm, flood, fire or hurricane during a pandemic can seem like an impossible task, but by following the CDC’s guidelines, you can safely navigate a natural disaster during COVID-19.