Houston firefighters have been treating and transporting COVID-19 patients for months with extra precautions. Now, add a tropical storm or a hurricane to that and things get more complicated.
"Certainly a hurricane or a situation where we're having to evacuate a large amount of people, and then find a shelter for them, and treat them beyond the evacuation is certainly going to be a huge game-changer for us," Chief Samuel Pena of the Houston Fire Department said.
HFD is in constant communications with the Red Cross and county partners to ensure they're prepared.
Planning on where evacuees could go, if it should come to that, is something county officials have been looking at during the pandemic.
"We urge you to evacuate tens of miles rather than hundreds of miles," explained Harris County Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator, Francisco Sanchez. "You're familiar with Houston. You're familiar with this region. If you can, evacuate to a hotel, somewhere where you can be with family."
If shelters do open, Sanchez said the Red Cross is prepared for that too.
"We've taken a look at sheltering in partnership with the American Red Cross and they have a very solid model across the country of how to do this in the midst of COVID, temperature checks, additional spacing, less people in shelters," said Sanchez.
If there are evacuations, HFD says they are in a good position. In fact, since Hurricane Harvey, HFD has added 10 high water rescue vehicles. They have 20 boats, jet skis, and an 80-member water strike team to respond.
"These are personnel that we've outfitted with dry suits and equipment and training," Pena said.
Pena is asking citizens to be prepared too.
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Here are a few extra items you should add to your hurricane kit since we are also in the middle of a pandemic:
- A few face masks
- Hand sanitizer
- At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Extra batteries and flashlights
- A first aid kit
- Any prescription medication
- Water proof container for any important documents
Your pets will also need some supplies. Here's what that list should look like:
- A picture of you and your pet
- Gloves, masks and hand sanitizer
"We know we flood. We know there are certain areas that are more prone to flooding," said Pena.
The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services says there are certain COVID-19 related protocols in place.
"We actually recently went through this with Hurricane Isaias, where we were able to implement with FEMA and our local authorities, different COVID related hurricane protocol. Always, I say to folks, listen to your governor, your mayor, your local authorities," said Secretary Alex Azar with Health and Human Services.