Pandemic storm prep: What Houstonians need to know as Gulf systems approach

Houston Director of Safety and Homeland Security George Beunik encourages Houstonians to sign up for emergency alerts through Alert Houston. (Courtesy HTV)
Houston Director of Safety and Homeland Security George Beunik encourages Houstonians to sign up for emergency alerts through Alert Houston. (Courtesy HTV)

Houston Director of Safety and Homeland Security George Beunik encourages Houstonians to sign up for emergency alerts through Alert Houston. (Courtesy HTV)

Houston officials are adjusting emergency management protocols to address the dual threat of severe weather events during the coronavirus pandemic.

The path and severity of two approaching storm systems, Tropical Depression 14 and Tropical Depression Laura, are still unclear, Director of Safety and Homeland Security George Beunik told reporters Aug. 21. He said a more detailed forecast will be known Aug. 24 or 25.

Here is how Beunik, Mayor Sylvester Turner and other local officials recommend residents prepare for the potential landfall of both or either system.

Get a coronavirus test before sheltering or evacuating with others

Houston’s city-run coronavirus testing sites have increased capacity in recent weeks despite a decline in visits, Houston Emergency Medical Director Dr. David Persse said. He and Turner have been urging residents to utilize the test sites, which in July were reaching capacity daily and now see short wait times. Residents who may consider sheltering in place with those outside their household or evacuating to a friend's or a family member’s household should plan to get tested beforehand, Turner said.

“It is critically important for us to get tested, and quite frankly it would be selfish of us not to,” Turner said. “If you don’t know your status ... you can potentially cause even greater problems.”

Add new supplies to preparation kit

In addition to typical storm supplies such as water, batteries, flashlights and first aid kits, residents are encouraged to include extra masks, hand sanitizer and soap.

Seek hospitals for medical care, not shelter

Area hospitals already under increased strain caring for patients with coronavirus cannot act as temporary shelters, Persse said. He encourages those seeking medical attention to still visit hospitals but seek shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center. If necessary, the city will set up additional shelters in hotels and additional spaces throughout the city to limit contact between those seeking shelter. All shelter spaces will also be sanitized and reconfigured to promote distancing between evacuees, Turner said.

High-water rescues will still be performed

If needed, high-water rescues will be performed by the Houston Fire Department and Houston Police Department, officials said. First responders will be equipped with proper personal protective equipment to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus, Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said. Residents with disabilities are encouraged to register with the Texas Department of Emergency Management's State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry. This allows first responders to plan for form accessible rescue plans as needed.

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By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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