Hurricane evacuees will get N95 masks if using New Orleans city-assisted plan

Chris Miller
May 29, 2020 - 5:49 pm

The city of New Orleans today updates residents on how hurricane evacuations will be handled should it become necessary to flee the city amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"We want to remind our residents that hurricane season is here, and so is COVID-19," said New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell. "Hurricane season is not going to wait for us to get out of this pandemic. The immediate threat to life from a major hurricane is more severe than the potential for virus exposure. Now more than ever, residents need to make their hurricane plan, for themselves and their family."

The mayor's office released the following overview of the city's and its partners' storm preparation efforts:

NEW ORLEANS HOMELAND SECURITY AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS (NOHSEP)

Director Collin Arnold noted that this week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its initial 2020 outlook, and is predicting an above-normal season. This is due to the combination of several climate factors, including the lack of an El Nino present to suppress hurricane activity, warmer than normal sea surface temperatures, and a reduced vertical wind shear. When NOAA says “above-normal,” they’re looking at an estimated 13-19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and anywhere between three to six of those classified as “major.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic adds a significant layer of complexity to the 2020 hurricane season. As emergency managers, we're grappling with three primary concerns related to COVID during hurricane season: staffing, evacuation planning, and the potential for public complacency. It’s been many years since we’ve been hit by a storm, which might make people feel less motivated to leave if we call for an evacuation. And we know that there’s a lot of fear out there related to evacuating during a pandemic. But I’m here to tell you today: the immediate threat to life from a major hurricane is far greater than the potential for virus exposure,” said Director Arnold.

Arnold reminded residents that NOLA Ready and the Medical Reserve Corps are recruiting volunteers to assist this hurricane season. Because of the medical and public health implications from COVID-19, the Medical Reserve Corps and NOLA Ready will now be recruiting and managing volunteers for evacuation.

Residents are encouraged to text their zip code to 888777 and follow on social media at @nolaready.

NEW ORLEANS HEALTH DEPARTMENT (NOHD)

NOHD has been working closely with the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to ensure that proper social distancing and PPE have been added to all aspects of hurricane plans to the extent feasible. This includes N95 masks for adults and children during the evacuation process and in any local shelters that may be established. NOHD staff has visited all of the local shelter sites to determine new capacities based on increased space per person and isolation areas for people who develop symptoms or have tested positive. NOHD is also working with the Louisiana Department of Health, healthcare facilities and the Medical Monitoring Station to ensure that NOHD facilities are prepared in light of the challenges they continue to face on a daily basis due to COVID-19. NOHD will continue to be available to evacuate and treat all COVID-19 patients while keeping other patients and staff safe.

One of the most important roles the NOHD plays in hurricane response is in the communication, evacuation and sheltering of our most vulnerable residents. NOHD has spent the last month updating its Special Needs Registry; registrants should expect to receive letters next week with their current status or asking them to call 3-1-1 to update their information. Due to the social distancing requirements of COVID-19, NOHD was unable to perform its annual outreach events to at risk populations but will continue to look for new outreach opportunities.

“This means that we need all residents to help us identify and register our elderly or medically vulnerable family, friends and neighbors. There may be people who previously did not need this assistance, but due to COVID-19 they now have medical complications that will require extra services. If you know someone who is going to have difficulty evacuating or sheltering due to a medical or mobility need, please help them register for the Special Needs Registry by calling 3-1-1 or visiting ready.nola.gov,” said Sarah Babcock, Director of Policy and Emergency Preparedness, New Orleans Health Department.

U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS (USACE)

Currently, the greater New Orleans area has the most advanced risk-reduction system in the nation. This system will defend against a 100-year storm surge event, which is a storm that has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year.

Several of USACE’s construction projects under the SELA program, such as those Uptown, have been completed and are currently undergoing the final landscaping work. USACE continues to make great progress on the Florida Avenue work and looks forward to when they are operational as well. These projects are designed to help manage a 10-year rain event, which is nine inches of rain during a 24-hour period. During a tropical event, SELA will work in tandem with the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. While the perimeter system will reduce the risk of surge entering the interior of the city, SELA will help reduce rainfall-induced damages by getting the water out of the streets.

“Through the daily efforts of our partners at the Flood Protection Authorities East and West, the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System is in great shape and will perform as designed this hurricane season. Every day the system continues to get stronger as we build resilience against larger storms into the system as we near completion of our efforts to armor the entire perimeter system,” said Col. Stephen Murphy, New Orleans District Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

SEWERAGE AND WATER BOARD OF NEW ORLEANS (SWBNO)

SWBNO has updated its emergency preparedness plan for the 2020 hurricane season, has cut the grass and pulled debris from its 35 open canals, and is testing its equipment and training its staff. This includes testing this week of the Carrollton Plant’s emergency operators to ensure its operators were comfortable running them and that they were in peak working order. This will be done periodically throughout the season.

SWBNO warned that while hurricanes should be monitored, residents should remember that summer rainstorms can pose significant flood threats, too.

All 99 major drainage pumps are in working order, with enough power to run as many pumps as is needed to respond.

“We can produce more than 60 MW of 25 Hz power, but we are concerned that the loss of Turbine 5 took away a good portion of our power surplus. We lost 20 MW when Turbine 5 exploded in December. Another major loss of a power-maker may force us to ration power during a rain event – a situation we want to avoid at all costs,” said Ghassan Korban, Executive Director, Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. “So we are improving our resiliency to make up for lost redundancy and safeguarding our remaining equipment.”

SWBNO has completed routine repairs to Turbine 1, upgraded Turbine 6’s control system, is upgrading its electrical feeders, and made repairs to the boilers that power its steam turbines.

FLOOD PROTECTION AUTHORITY-EAST

“The system is ready for hurricane season. It has been thoroughly inspected and operated on a monthly basis. The Flood Protection Authority East maintains and operates 244 land-based floodgates, eight navigational floodgates, three PCCP stations, along with 192 miles of levees and floodwalls. This year we have implemented the Everbridge alert system to keep the public informed of our progress as well as started our annual public service announcements on TV, radio, and the Internet. We feel very confident in the system and look forward to keeping people and property safe during Hurricane Season,” said Derek Boese, Chief Administrative Officer, Flood Protection Authority-East.

COASTAL PROTECTION AND RESTORATION AUTHORITY (CPRA)

CPRA coordinates with local levee districts, parishes and federal agencies to make sure flood protection systems are being operated as intended and performing as they were designed to ensure that communities receive protection. As part of CPRA’s preparations leading up to the beginning of hurricane season, the agency coordinates with local authorities to exercise flood protection gates on the levee systems to make sure they are operable.

Unique to this year’s hurricane season will be adjustments to the COVID-19 outbreak. For example, in previous years, closure of gates typically began as H-60 (60 hours out) before project landfall. This year, some of the local levee districts may begin to close gates has early as H-72 (72 hours out) to allow increased time for operation. Because of social distancing and other best practices for COVID-19, in some districts this additional time will be required for gate closures.

“This year, it’s more important than ever to tune in early to local officials regarding gate closures and other orders. Local, state, and federal officials have a game plan, and we’ve been preparing and practicing for a storm, but there’s one more vital piece and that is every family and business needs to get a game plan for hurricane season. For more information you can go to Getagameplan.org. Now more than ever in advance of this hurricane season, everyone needs to get prepared with a game plan, follow directions from your local officials, and stay safe,” said Greg Grandy, Deputy Executive Director, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana.

NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT (NOPD)

NOPD reports that all boats and high-water vehicles are ready for potential search-and-rescue incidents. Barricades are ready if needed to implement “Operation Underpass,” and the backup generators at district stations are currently being tested. Those tests should be completed by June 1.

“We encourage citizens to make their safety during hurricane season a priority by preparing in advance and adhering to public officials’ guidance during any emergency. The less you put yourself at risk, the less likely our officers will be put at risk in order to save you and your family,” said Shaun Ferguson, Superintendent, New Orleans Police Department. “And, in light of the current heath emergency, we encourage citizens to make sure they have their own supply of gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer so we don’t help spread the virus.”

The NOPD, in partnership with the National Guard, will be strategically placed around the city in case of an evacuation to protect property.

LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD (LNG)

“The Louisiana National Guard is, as always, trained and ready to respond to any emergency. The men and women of the Louisiana National Guard, Army and Air, live here – we are your neighbors and we stand with the people of New Orleans and the entire State of Louisiana to support our state and local governments. Our response is very much the same as in previous years – we will support with the City-assisted evacuation plan, search-and-rescue in the aftermath of a storm as needed, and food distribution at pod sites. Our mission and our motto are the same – protect what matters,” said Col. Kenneth Baillie, Louisiana Army National Guard.

LOUISIANA STATE POLICE (LSP)

When contraflow is activated, please be aware that depending on where you are, or what lane you are in on the interstate, this will determine what route you are directed to take. Once contraflow is activated, you will not be able to enter or exit the interstate system until directed to do so at designated locations.

“For years we have provided our motorist with information regarding contraflow on the interstate system. Contraflow is an evacuation of last resort, and the decision to activate contraflow is made by Gov. Edwards. Louisiana officials are in constant contact with the State’s partners in Mississippi and Texas to ensure that we work jointly in an effort to safely move our motorists out of harm’s way,” Capt. Chavez Cammon, Louisiana State Police.

More details on contraflow and evacuation routes at www.lsp.org. You can visit https://www.511la.org/ for road blocks, closed roads, and other traffic information. LSP will be ready and prepared to support the New Orleans Police Department on the re-entry plans as well.

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