Emergency officials face prospect of responding to a hurricane amid a pandemic

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Published: Jul. 22, 2020 at 1:14 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 22, 2020 at 1:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A hurricane or tropical storm would undoubtedly complicate an already trying year. But with a system currently churning east of Hawaii, officials say preparing for severe weather can’t be overlooked.

Emergency officials understand that COVID-19 adds another layer of emotional, physical, and financial stress as families prepare for the threat of unstable, and potentially damaging weather.

With social distancing rules in place, the city’s Department of Emergency Management says emergency shelter capacity may be limited.

Officials are assessing 150 facilities around Oahu, including new locations that they haven’t used in the past, for potential storm shelters. For those in the shelter, family units will be spaced six feet apart.

“We came up with guidance for PPE in shelters for screening people as they come in, and we’re actively putting together kits of PPE for every shelter,” Jennifer Walter of the Department of Emergency Management said. “We’re making sure there’s classrooms available if someone is symptomatic, so that we can isolate them from the rest of the shelter.”

Families are urged to make sure their own personal protective gear is now a part of their emergency supply kits.

The head of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency also says they are in early discussions about using vacant hotel rooms as shelters.

Another issue is staffing. Since many of the volunteers at shelters are often retirees, they are considered a high risk group for COVID.

Anyone interested in filling volunteer slots can sign up by clicking here.

Meanwhile, forecasters and local leaders are closely monitoring Douglas, which is expected to impact Hawaii as a tropical storm over the weekend.

Emergency crews remain at the ready as a clearer picture of the storm forms.

“At that time, we’ll stand up a virtual meeting and we’ll start to assess the track. Currently the track brings it very close up to the islands. We expect the storm to increase in size maybe get up to a major hurricane before starting to weaken,” Luke Meyers of HIEMA said.

With many people still out of work, Mayor Caldwell says he knows some are struggling to buy 14 days worth of food and supplies for a hurricane kit.

He added they are working on a city-issued debit card for families in need that would come with restrictions. Details on that haven’t yet been finalized.

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