'Disaster fatigue' could threaten hurricane preparedness
After weeks of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and alarming headlines, some emergency officials say “disaster fatigue” could impact hurricane season preparedness.
Weeks of lockdowns, social distancing and workplace closures can take a toll, and now emergency officials are worried COVID-19 may impact the ability for people to effectively prepare for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
The official start to hurricane season in the U.S. is less than two weeks away, and Tropical Storm Arthur has already hit the East Coast. Emergency officials, however, are concerned that the economic and emotional toll COVID-19 has taken on individuals will impact their ability to effectively prepare for the upcoming severe weather.
"They’re tired of seeing the numbers. They’re tired of seeing the news media. They’re tired," Bill Wheeler, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator in Harris County, Texas, told AccuWeather reporter Bill Wadell.
Tropical Storm Arthur is seen swirling off the Southeast coast on Sunday morning, May 17, 2020. (CIRA/RAMMB)
AccuWeather forecasters say there will be 14-20 tropical storms during the upcoming season for the Atlantic Basin, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. Seven to 11 of those tropical storms are forecast to become hurricanes.
Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather's top hurricane expert, previously said this year will be above average for tropical storm activity, as the typical season only sees about 12 storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
“Disaster fatigue is probably a coping mechanism rather than a character flaw,” psychologist and mental health worker for the American Red Cross Susan Silk told Wadell in a Skype interview.
Silk said emergency officials are now struggling to find a balance between frightening people and downplaying the severity of events.
“What can meteorologists at this time and behavioral health people do to craft a message that people won’t tune out. That won’t induce yet more disaster fatigue," Silk said.
Clouds loom over the Miami skyline Thursday, May 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people take breaks from news regarding the pandemic, take care of themselves physically, make time to "unwind," and stay connected to friends and family.
"Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting," the CDC said.
If stress begins to effect day-to-day activities for multiple days in a row, the CDC recommends contacting a healthcare provider.
Wheeler said families living in areas that could be impacted by tropical activity should prepare emergency plans in the event of a hurricane that keeps COVID-19 in mind.
“Do a hurricane drill at home right now. It’ll be a little different than COVID-19. Just do a family drill and talk about the things you want to do," Wheeler said.
"With hurricane season coming on, we're going to have to lay in some time to be prepared," he said.
Additional reporting by Bill Wadell
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