Hurricane and wildfire seasons are upon us, which have brought devastation to people and property every year. But this year, we’ll face a collision of devastating events—natural disasters with a pandemic –creating a unique set of problems for evacuation, shelter, and case management. How can we evacuate and house people fleeing from natural hazards while avoiding COVID-19 exposure?
Immediately preceding many natural hazard events, state and local governments issue alerts and evacuation orders to ensure residents move out of harm’s way. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for disasters this year still recommend preparing mass public evacuation shelters. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, congregate shelters are not a safe option.
Amid the pandemic, standard evacuation procedures will not suffice. To inform their response this summer, state and local governments and disaster responders can look to how the homeless assistance system pivoted to respond to COVID-19 when it first hit.
Homeless service providers learned early in the pandemic that COVID-19 can transmit quickly in congregate emergency shelters. With the hospitality industry suffering economically from halts in tourism due to the pandemic, communities looked to hotels and motels as safe housing solutions for their homeless clients.
To minimize the risk of contagion while proving emergency shelter, disaster responders must start pivoting their approach now. They can use the plans and timeframes for housing services developed by homeless assistance organizations and other compiled learnings as stepping stones for disaster planning. Disaster responders can identify viable hotels and motels in advance, such as those with high structural integrity to face strong winds and floods, or those out of the path of storms or high-risk fires.
Read the full article about natural disaster response during COVID-19 by Claudia D. Solari and Carlos Martín at Urban Institute.
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