As another hurricane season approaches, the coronavirus pandemic has created a new layer of preparations as the community plans for possible storms.


From items to add to emergency kits to ways to adhere to social distancing in case shelters are opened are among the topics to consider as response to the pandemic continues into a hurricane season that begins June 1.


“Hurricane season is around the corner and we know we’ll still be in the re-opening phase for COVID-19 response when it starts,” said Jacksonville City Manager Richard Woodruff.


Woodruff said the city’s staff has continued regular operations throughout the pandemic, including preparations for hurricane season, but this year has come with additional considerations on how to keep staff and residents safe from both spread of the virus and from a storm if a tropical storm or hurricane threatens the area.


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Woodruff noted the opening of shelters is the county’s jurisdiction but at the city level, one of the biggest issues if a storm threatens the area is how to physically house the city personnel directly involved in the emergency response in the new world of social distancing.


He estimates they have 450 or so employees involved in immediate response needs such as police, fire and rescue; streets and traffic signals; utilities and other operations who are typically housed at the public safety building and other city buildings.


“During a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, we could use the city buildings and spread out,” Woodruff said. “If we were to get a category 3 or higher, there are only a few city buildings we could utilize.”


Woodruff said the Center of Public Safety building is the primary city facility they could use but it is not designed to hold that many people. Due to space constraints and the added challenge of social distancing, they’d have to look at housing fewer employees during a storm.


“Even if we have to have people housed in an environment closer than normal, we’ll be taking extra precautions,” he said.


Hand washing, disinfecting and cleaning high-use surfaces, and practicing social distancing are among the measures that have become part of daily lives since the pandemic began.


Residents are encouraged to keep preventative measures in place as they make their own preparations.


Onslow County Assistant County Manager Sheri Slater said residents are encouraged to include an evacuation plan as they prepare and consider in advance a place to stay, such as with friends or family. Even if the county opens shelters, people may be at high risk or do not want to stay in a place with a lot of other people due to ongoing concerns about the virus.


However, Slater said, they understand not everyone is able to evacuate and will need to stay in a shelter should they be opened.


In that case, don’t forget to add items to help prevent spread of virus.


“If someone is sheltering they need to look at things like bringing face coverings and remembering to include hand sanitizer,” Slater said.


Those are among the items that everyone should be including in the disaster preparedness kits whether or not Eastern North Carolina sees a hurricane threat this season.


If the county opens shelters, they will be looking at ways to better utilize space to keep people spread further apart as well as protocols for keeping facilities sanitized and limiting possible exposure to virus.


Slater said the county’s emergency response plans include response to a pandemic and mass inoculation but the COVID-19 response is unprecedented and evolving. Planning and response evolves as well to be sure they are responding in the best way possible, she said.


“It is a dynamic situation so our plans have to be dynamic as well,” Slater said.


Onslow County Emergency Services Director Norman Bryson also encourages residents to make plans for a place to stay with family or friends if they need to leave home during an evacuation.


Due to COVID-19, they may have to cut down on the number of people they are capable of housing in shelters depending on the severity of a storm. And those who do use the shelters will likely find the experience different than in the past.


Sheltering is one of the bigger issues they face as far as emergency preparedness during the time of a pandemic. They not only have to think about area residents but also housing staff if the Emergency Operations Center is activated.


Bryson said they prepare for the worst and hope for the best.


“We stress the importance of being prepared,” Bryson said. “The National Weather Service has predicted a very heavy, an above average season.”


Reporter Jannette Pippin can be reached at 910-382-2557 or Jannette.Pippin@JDNews.com.