GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The Red Cross and Mississippi Emergency Managament Agency are working together to tackle a huge problem: How do they staff and operate shelters in a post-COVID-19 world? With an active hurricane season being projected, the agencies are working fast to find solutions.
County emergency management agencies and MEMA determine when shelters in Mississippi open. However, it is the Red Cross that staffs the shelters and provides supplies, but COVID-19 could threaten the status quo.
“That’s the kink in it, is that, if a hurricane hit right now, we would not staff any shelters due to the COVID crisis," said Executive Director John McFarland of the Red Cross’ Southeast Mississippi chapter. “If we were to open the shelter and put people in there and provide sufficient spacing, which would obviously mean putting fewer people in, one person shows symptoms and you have to quarantine the whole shelter and you just make matters worse.”
The possibility of utilizing hotels as shelters has also been discussed. The Red Cross is working to get reduced rates at establishments. The shelter guests would be forced to stay in their room for social distancing purposes, and the Red Cross staff volunteers would bring them three meals a day.
It’s an idea that was utilized for the tornadoes that hit the state earlier this year. But hurricane season presents different problems.
“We have to consider the fact that if we have a bad hurricane, there may not be hotel rooms available so what other resources are available? That is what are local county emergency managers, MEMA and the Red Cross are looking at now, what are our options," said said McFarland.
Harrison County EMA Director Rupert Lacy is preparing to open more shelters than ever to better allow social distancing, and is preparing for the possibility that they may have to find a new way to staff the shelters.
“We’re trying to make sure that we staff out shelters with either county employees or whoever the building is owned by,” said Lacy. The agencies are set to continue communicating about possible solutions. They just want to be prepared for every situation come hurricane season."
To read more on the new guidance adopted by FEMA that focuses on response planning and recovery planning, click here.