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Changes to fire evacuation centers due to pandemic

Posted at 12:20 AM, Jun 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-11 09:14:07-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Evacuations across San Diego County during large wildfires will look different this fire season due to the pandemic.

Sean Mahoney, Regional Chief Executive Officer for the American Red Cross Southern California Region, said they've put together a plan for families that could be impacted by wildfires this year.

Mahoney said it starts with the temporary evacuation points, where families can initially go after being evacuated. That is a place for them to safety wait until firefighters can get the fire under control and to receive information.

Mahoney said buildings like community centers and libraries have traditionally served as temporary evacuation points, but putting people indoors now carries risk due to COVID-19.

This year, the Red Cross has identified several possible temporary evacuation points that would be safer during the pandemic. Many are local school parking lots. Instead of waiting indoors, they will ask for families to remain in their vehicles until a Red Cross worker can attend to them.

"We would approach their window, we would have a mask, and we would get their cell numbers, and from that point on, we can use cell phones to give them updates," Mahoney said.

Mahoney added they picked parking structures with shade so families can be more comfortable.

In cases where families need to be sheltered overnight, Mahoney said they have two plans, depending on the situation.

"If there are just a small number of people displaced, we'll put them in hotel rooms we'll have Red Cross people in the hotels, and then we'll just have to adjust feeding them as well," Mahoney said. "It'll be much more costly, but we have a responsibility, and it's our mission to provide sheltering and feeding folks on the worst day of their lives, and we take it very seriously."

In cases where they have to establish an overnight shelter, Mahoney said they would look to set up several shelters with fewer people at each one. Space and capacity would be factors.

"Certainly at the shelters, our staff will be wearing masks, and taking those precautions as far advanced cleaning and separating people and separating cots. We will also provide masks to people that come in and make sure they do health checks as they come in," Mahoney said.