The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing for hurricane season amid the challenges posed by social distancing guidelines in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re doing a lot of things that are not necessarily in any playbook that has existed,” FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor told Axios in an interview on Saturday. “In some cases, we write the playbook as we go.”
The agency is drafting a document in advance of the June 1 start of hurricane season to prepare for evacuations while maintaining social distancing guidelines and house people into schools and community centers without creating unsafe crowding conditions.
It’s also trying to determine how to protect the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions that are most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“This pandemic, it is historic. It is unprecedented in many ways for FEMA,” Gaynor said.
He said there are more concerns than just removing coronavirus patients from hospitals.
“If we have to evacuate a hospital, that hospital typically would just evacuate the patients,” Gaynor said. “But now we’ve got to make sure they evacuate the patients, the medical equipment like ventilators, pharmaceuticals that allow ventilators to be used on patients in ICUs. All those things now make it more difficult, there’s no doubt about it.”
He also said some patients sick with coronavirus might have to be transferred to other facilities.
“Locals and states really have to understand some of those challenges and plan for that,” Gaynor said, adding that FEMA will try to help.
Even if the pandemic stabilizes over the summer, it could resurge before hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.
Gaynor said FEMA has taken over vacant office space in Washington and has set up an additional command center that will deal with non-COVID-19 catastrophes this summer.
Still, Gaynor said he’s “highly confident” FEMA will meet the challenges.