Nova Scotia

Why COVID-19 means you should stock up for hurricane season now

Emergency officials have spent the summer planning how to respond to a hurricane should one hit during the pandemic, their plans involve finding more space for evacuees and screening out people with the virus.

Emergency officials prepare to deal with storm-caused disasters during pandemic

A boat house was washed out into Herring Cove, N.S., by post tropical storm Dorian in September of 2019. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

For weeks emergency preparedness officials in Nova Scotia have attempted to figure out how to best cope with an extremely active hurricane season while still obeying public health rules connected to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

"It's definitely a challenge," said Jason Mew, the director of incident management with the province's Emergency Management Office.  

EMO is responsible for emergency planning and coordinating emergency responses with municipalities, utilities, and emergency groups like the Red Cross. 

If a hurricane hits the province this year the response will look quite different than it did when post-tropical storm Dorian tore through Nova Scotia last year, said Mew.  

Emergency shelters with physical distancing

Shelters to house people left homeless by a storm will need more space than ever before to accommodate physical distancing rules. The Red Cross sets up and runs emergency overnight shelters in the province. 

"Instead of being able to put everybody in the Canada Games Centre like we did for Dorian, we may have to look at two or three sites to house the same number of people," said Ancel Langille, the senior manager for emergency management for the Red Cross in Atlantic Canada. 

In 2019 more than 125 people made use of the emergency shelter at Halifax's Canada Games Centre after being displaced by Dorian. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

Making sure people at multiple locations have water and food along with cots and blankets requires a lot of planning. 

"It's a lot of legwork, a lot of lifting, a lot of moving to make sure evacuees have what they need to be as comfortable as possible for the time that they're going to be out of their homes,"  said Langille.      

Langille said people who come to a shelter will most likely be asked if they have any COVID-19 symptoms. Those who do will be turned away because of the risk of spreading the virus to others.

Mew said if that should happen, the Department of Health and Wellness will be contacted and the people with COVID-19 symptoms will be given a place they can self-isolate. 

"Health and Wellness would confer with their experts and they may rent a few rooms in a hotel or they might find a facility where you can isolate people in separate rooms," said Mew. 

Power lines came down across the province during Dorian resulting in widespread outages that affected 400,000 Nova Scotia Power customers at the height of the storm. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Red Cross volunteers at shelters will also be outfitted in personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves and masks. So will volunteers with the Salvation Army, which helps provide food and water to people during disasters. 

In an email, Public Safety Canada said there are no major shortfalls in the supply of PPE in the country right now. 

And both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army said they have more than enough willing volunteers on standby to help out should disaster strike. During Dorian, the Red Cross had about 65 volunteers help about 180 people displaced by the storm. In Nova Scotia right now they have 276 volunteers at the ready.  

Maritime generosity 'shining brightly'

It's a similar story with the Salvation Army, where people are eager to help despite their fears surrounding COVID-19.  

"This is where the generosity and the support and the attention to caring for others that is a natural trait of Maritimers really comes to light and it's shining brightly," said Major Jamie Locke, spokesperson for the Salvation Army in the Maritimes. 

EMO's Provincial Coordination Centre is the hub of emergency decision-making for Nova Scotia during a natural disaster. (Submitted by Jason Mew)

But Locke said the Salvation Army has had to carefully select who would be on the front lines, taking into account people's pre-existing health problems and the risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

Volunteers who can't meet face to face with people will still be able to help out remotely, he said.

If people's homes are damaged by a storm, there should be no delays in getting insurance claims processed, according to Amanda Dean, vice-president Atlantic with the Insurance Bureau of Canada. 

She said insurance adjusters who inspect and assess damage to property will be outfitted with PPE and follow public health rules when meeting with clients. Since filing a claim is done mostly over the phone, Dean said there shouldn't be any delays in service. 

A large tree came down across Grand Lake Road in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality during post-tropical storm Dorian in September 2019. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The only problem she foresees is if Nova Scotia gets hit with a storm that's as strong, or stronger than Hurricane Juan. If that were the case the damage could be so severe that insurance adjusters from outside the province would most likely have to be brought in to help. And getting them into a hurricane-ravaged area could slow down the entire claims process. 

Dean says during Dorian there were enough insurance adjusters in Nova Scotia to inspect all the damage. 

Each group stressed how important it is for the public to stock up on non-perishable food, water and other supplies like batteries and propane before a hurricane is forecast for the region.

That should help avoid long lines at stores as people try to stock up just before a storm hits or right after it ends. 

In this file photo from 2019 people who were displaced by Dorian are served lunch by volunteers for the Salvation Army at an emergency shelter. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

Langille said it was difficult planning to help people in need while still keeping your distance. 

"I've been a volunteer, and the reward is touching someone, that feeling that I've helped this person today, I put this blanket around their shoulder," he said. "It really is a different mindset."