Pandemic brings changes to county hurricane response, limits shelter capacities

VIDEO: Pandemic brings changes to county hurricane response, limits shelter capacities

NORTH CHARLESTON S.C. - As Hurricane Isaias nears the southeast, storm response may look different this year as Lowcountry officials balance storm preparation with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jason Patno, director of Charleston County Emergency Management, says the biggest difference people need to prepare for is a significant reduction in shelter capacity to accommodate social distancing.

Charleston County has six locations approved to use as shelters, however instead of housing up to 3473 people, this year there will only be 634 spots in the case of a severe storm.

"Our shelter space has been reduced by over 75 percent. We now only have 634 shelter spaces in all of Charleston County," Patno said. "These are shelters of last resort."

Berkeley County officials say out of 14 shelters available, capacity has gone from 8,300 to 4,854.

That’s a 41 percent decrease.

"Based on past storms, this should still be more than sufficient for the number of people seeking shelter," Berkeley County spokesperson Hannah Moldenhauer said in a statement.

Similarly to Charleston, Dorchester county officials say shelter capacity has decreased by around 80 percent.

“Once your inside, there’s going to be some changes,” Ben Williamson with the South Carolina Red Cross said. “We’re going to require that the space between the individual families is farther apart.”

Beyond social distancing, the American Red Cross will be taking temperatures and staggering pre-packaged meals.

Benjamin said because of COVID-19, the Red Cross is going to rely heavily on serving virtually.

“We’re looking hopefully to keep about 70 percent of the workforce and our team virtually, and will have about 30 percent that are actually on the ground,” Benjamin said.

While in years past volunteers from around the country have come to the Charleston area to help during hurricanes, this year, officials say they need more Lowcountry locals to volunteer to prevent any further spread of COVID-19.

“We can do that, but we’re trying to limit putting our volunteers across the country on planes, and cars,” Benjamin said. “In order to do that we are trying to build up the volunteer base here in South Carolina, locally. So that we can meet the need locally.”

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