NORFOLK, Va. - During a hurricane, people in Hampton Roads may be told to evacuate to shelters, but how will they know they are safe during a pandemic?
A new report from ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center says more vulnerable populations may be less willing to evacuate to a shelter or elsewhere due to concerns of catching COVID-19.
"You have to do some adjustments in planning, the type of shelters you have, whether they're congregate or non-congregate, cleaning within those shelters," Dr. Joshua Behr, who helped author the nearly 700-page report.
Researchers made dozens of recommendations to the state and local governments about how to properly plan, including assuring there's social distancing at a shelter. They say governments need to make sure vulnerable people aren't left behind and severely impacted in a hurricane.
"One of the fears we have here in Hampton Roads - many of the disparities we have in health and well-being we've cracked, and they may be closing - they still have a long ways to go, but they may be exacerbated by the punch of a storm," said Behr.
Locally, planners say Hurricane Ida is a reminder to not let your guard down.
"I ask myself the 'what if?' questions. What if Ida were to happen here?" asked Jim Redick, Norfolk's director of emergency preparedness and response.
Redick says they've been planning for operating a shelter during a pandemic.
"We will have to get folks into wherever we need to get them. We want to do it with social distancing. We want to do it with measures in place at the shelters for handwashing and the like, but we want to get folks into a safer environment. That is our most immediate priority," he said.
Redick is encouraging people to know their zones if they have to evacuate and to have a hurricane kit ready.