WILLIAMSON: Hurricane Evacuation Centers Safe? Don’t Bet on the Governor to Ensure They Are

As Louisiana prepares to open in the coming days and weeks ahead it is important to begin to plan for our mid-term future. The legislature will be back in session next week and will be focused on crafting the budget for next year.  It is anticipated that non-essential legislation will not be considered due to the condensed schedule of the legislative calendar and the complexity that lies ahead in figuring out Louisiana’s budget.  However, one task that should not be ignored during this time will be holding hearings to determine Louisiana’s readiness for hurricane season during the era of corona virus.

June 1st marks the recognized start of hurricane season; the same day the legislature is obligated to gavel out. While it is anticipated a special session will immediately follow the end of the regular session, what should be on the call for that special session or even before, should be holding hearings and bringing forward the Governor’s administration officials to testify on exactly how they will handle hurricane evacuations during COVID-19. Given the reluctance of Governor Edwards to address two crises at one time (epidemiological and economical) I am reluctant to believe his administration has even given proper thought or planned for the eventuality of a hurricane season with a CV-19 outbreak.

The state should plan for and expect a secondary outbreak during the next flu season in the fall. By no means is this outbreak a guarantee. However, it is important for planners and leaders to anticipate all possible outcomes of a potential crisis. One such product planners should be actively planning for is a hurricane that causes an evacuation order on the local and state levels. If an evacuation is called, and cases of CV-19 are present in our communities, how would shelters be set up? Does Louisiana have the tests allocated to test all those entering the shelter? Do the shelters have capacity to segregate out those who test positive for CV-19? Will there be enough proper PPE located at these shelters? Essentially are evacuation shelters safe for hurricane season that is just days away? Most importantly, has the administration, given any thought to any of this?

As a logistics officer in the United States Navy these are the issues that I worry about. It seems to me the New Orleans convention center is already built out as a COVID-19 overflow hospital.  So, perhaps that may make the most sense for the New Orleans area. Half used as a shelter for evacuees and the other half of the center to house those who may test positive. Given that Mayor Cantrell randomly and prematurely canceled nearly every event this fall, and the convention center’s event calendar is all but scrapped, perhaps the state should consider allocating funds in the upcoming sessions to renting the center while allowing Louisiana to be prepared for the worst case scenario of a hurricane during the corona virus.

But, that is just one possible site to house evacuees. What is Louisiana’s plan state-wide? In contrast to Jon Bel, it is important that the legislature not be singularly focused on just one issue at a time. The legislature should focus on the budget in the coming weeks but also think of potential, looming issues such as hurricane season and ensuring the safety of our evacuation centers. The House Special Committee on Homeland Security should call the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Response, Director James Waskom, and have him report on where Louisiana stands in adapting our shelters to ensure they are safe from the corona virus.  The last thing Louisiana needs is to house hundreds or thousands of vulnerable citizens in centers not equipped to combat the corona virus.  Once it gavels back in, the legislature will only have a few weeks before we enter hurricane season and it is important that we hear from our leaders as to how they are planning for our future because my confidence that the governor’s office is doing this, is non-existent.

Albert Einstein once said, “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” Since I am skeptical of those in power; it’s time we hear the truth. Is Louisiana truly ready for hurricane season? I unfortunately doubt we are.

Kirk Williamson is a Ph.D student, Naval Officer and small business owner in New Orleans.



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