STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Tornadoes hit the South this week, a reminder that the United States is entering its peak season for natural disasters. Dealing with any disaster - hurricanes, floods, wildfires - will be complicated by the pandemic. NPR's Nathan Rott reports emergency responders are preparing.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: First, the good news - ish (ph). Everyone agrees that the country and local areas could deal with a natural disaster on top of the coronavirus pandemic, as some places are seeing right now. But a major one involving thousands of evacuations - well, here's Sharon Weston Broome, the mayor-president of flood-prone Baton Rouge, La.
SHARON WESTON BROOME: I think it would take our city and our parish to a level of disaster that's never been experienced in the history of this nation.
ROTT: Emergency workers are already strapped. Aid organizations are already deployed. Millions of people have already lost jobs. A major natural disaster, Broome says, would just be more stress...
WESTON BROOME: On what is already a taxed system.
ROTT: Not to mention a logistical nightmare. Joyce Flinn is the director of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. And she says usually states depend on each other when a disaster strikes.
JOYCE FLINN: But in this event, no one's going to send their personnel to other states because of the fear of spreading the disease and putting them in harm's way potentially.
ROTT: The same could be true for aid groups and evacuees.
CRAIG FUGATE: We've told people to stay home, stay home, stay home. And then you're going to turn around and tell them, you need to evacuate.
ROTT: Craig Fugate is the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA.
FUGATE: And that's going to be a hard message, and we really don't have much time because May's traditionally when a lot of the hurricane preparedness activities, messaging stuff takes place.
ROTT: Plans need to be made now, he says, and should take advantage of the new realities the pandemic has created. Take the staffing issue.
FUGATE: I think one of the things we're under appreciating is we already have sizable workforces already idled in these communities. Unlike 2017 when the three hurricanes hit and you were at the top of the economy and there weren't that many people that weren't employed so getting emergency workers was damn near impossible, today's a target-rich environment.
ROTT: Call it a nickel lining. An even bigger issue, though, is going to be evacuations and shelters. Where do people go given social distancing guidelines? Trevor Riggen is with the American Red Cross.
TREVOR RIGGEN: If at all possible, we want to put families in hotels. And that's a big shift for us for larger advance, but we think that's a better, safer answer for families.
ROTT: Dormitories from vacated college campuses could also be an option, he says. And if emergency shelters are needed, they'll involve temperature checks, delivered meals and a host of other considerations to try and prevent the coronavirus spread. Like everyone else, Riggen hopes this does not happen.
RIGGEN: We can hope for the best but always plan for the worst.
ROTT: Which he says is an important message for anyone hearing this - if you and your family have a plan to deal with a natural disaster, whether it be a wildfire or a flood or an earthquake, now is a good time to reassess that plan. Maybe it's no longer a good idea to evacuate to the grandparents' house. Maybe you've already dipped into your emergency stash of food or supplies and need to restock. Be prepared, Riggen says. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
Nathan Rott, NPR News.
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