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Hurricane season is here, and (even though we don't want to) it's time to talk Covid, shelters, pets, and more


After Hurricane Florence and COVID-19, New Hanover County’s emergency shelters have made several improvements. So, while no one’s excited about the prospect of a hurricane during a pandemic, it’s worth knowing what that would look like — for us, and our pets.

According to Anna McRay, the assistant director of New Hanover County’s Department of Emergency Services, COVID-19 and Hurricane Florence have forced her department to elevate their emergency protocols.

“The biggest challenge in the last 18 months has been COVID. So we have adapted our plans and spaced folks out a little bit more and increased training, increased… all of the hand washing and hand sanitizer and wearing masks and, and things like that… We have increased training opportunities with the American Red Cross, we use their standards for disaster sheltering, which kind of helps us standardize it across the whole board," McRay said.

McRay said the county has also offered additional training for health and human services partners, and has even improved its ability to accommodate pets in shelters.

Even though many feel the pandemic is subsiding, McRay said that safety shelters will still be requiring masks — but not vaccination cards. She said the county does not want to turn anyone away in the event of an emergency.

“The Red Cross does request that everybody wear masks, when they're in the shelters, we're encouraging everybody to consider getting a vaccine. But there's no screening process that we're going to make people show any kinds of cards or anything like that, you know, our goal is to get people into safety. So we'll work with folks," she said.

While shelters are a safe space, McRay emphasizes that they are a last resort. There are no privacy walls for changing or sleeping. Basically: shelters are intended to be places of refuge, not vacation spots.

Shelters will open one at a time depending on the severity of each storm. This hurricane season, New Hanover County will have five shelters available as needed: Blair, Johnson, Eaton, Coddington, and Trask elementary schools. The county will also choose one shelter to be pet friendly, and is preparing to handle everything from dogs and cats to snakes and other pers.

The county has actually created a new working group to help prepare.

"We actually have a new working group, the New Hanover animals and disaster workgroup that's bringing together veterinary partners and rescue groups and… veterinarians...and we're talking specifically about animals and disasters, and how to take care of the wide variety, everything from dogs to snakes, and how to support those families, their 'paw-rents,' if you will, to be able to, you know, make sure everybody's prepared," she said.'

McRay urges residents to create a disaster plan for their pets like they would with any other member of the family.

“We have a pet-co-location shelter, where you could bring your pet. You need to bring all of the stuff that goes with it: you'd have to bring food and water or food and bowls, and you know, ID and things like that. … We don't want to leave anybody behind be it two-legged, four-legged, scaled or furry," McRay said.

The greatest piece of advice, McRay says, is to be prepared.

More from New Hanover County:

  • Info on taking care of your pets during an emergency situation here
  • Info about shelters and evacuations here
Mattie Holloway is a North Carolina native from Emerald Isle. She is a rising junior at Emerson College majoring in writing, literature, and publishing. Mattie has interned for Public Radio East; she is part of Emerson’s honors program; and writes for her school’s lifestyle magazine, Atlas. When she’s not working, Mattie enjoys going to the beach, trying to find the perfect cup of coffee, and receiving book recommendations.