EMA: Make shelter plans ahead of severe weather threat amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Weather Authority
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Severe storms are possible Tuesday. Are you ready? Do you have a plan for shelter?

The Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency wants everyone to go ahead and make your shelter plan now.

WHNT News 19 has checked on many shelters across the Tennessee Valley and most organizations plan to keep their shelters open. However, most hope you will make other plans to be in a safe place during the severe weather, because social distancing will be a real problem within the public shelters.

“Each individual needs to make an educated decision on where and when to shelter from strong winds or tornado,” Director of the Huntsville-Madison Emergency Management Agency Jeffrey Birdwell said in an email statement on Sunday.

The EMA says the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is recommending your first priority is to protect yourself from a potential tornado.  If a warning is issued for your area, you are more likely to be affected by the tornado than the coronavirus.

View a PDF map of Madison County Shelter locations here.

However, the decision to open a community shelter will be made at the local or county level.  Before you go to a community shelter, check with your community shelter manager to ensure they will be open and if there are considerations in place for COVID-19. (See below for a list of counties we have spoken to learn of their plans as of March 22, 2020)

Wherever you choose to shelter, use as many precautions as possible to inhibit the spread of coronavirus. 

"While not the best case scenario, we would discourage people from going to the shelters and finding alternative shelters but you know, you just have to handle the emergency at hand," said Jeffrey Birdwell.

For those who rely on public community shelters, now may be the time to explore other options that keep you safe from severe weather and limit your exposure to COVID-19.

The best way to prepare for this potential scenario is to keep up with the latest weather forecast as well as the latest recommendations regarding COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ADPH, and local authorities.  

List of Shelters:

  • Blount County - No Changes
  • Colbert County - Shelter will still be open. Use common sense to protect your health
  • Cullman County - The shelters aren't run by the EMA, it's up to individual municipalities.
  • DeKalb County - No storm shelter policy changes
  • Franklin County - No changes
  • Jackson County - Shelters will be open, EMA encourages everyone to stage outside shelter and enter only if necessary, courthouse shelter entrance will be through sheriff's garage
  • Lauderdale County - Open during tornado watches and warnings. Practice social distancing within the shelter
  • Lawrence County - No Changes, but they do request anyone who's sick to wear a mask
  • Limestone County - No changes, must bring own sanitation supplies and stay 6 feet away from others if possible. However, Athens City Schools has announced that Athens High School will not be open to the public as a storm shelter until further notice.
  • Madison County - No changes as of right now
  • Marion County - Shelter at own risk - Practice social distancing
  • Marshall County - Shelter at own risk, but the county is considering this issue and may make a statement.
  • Morgan County - Shelters open, enter at your own risk, 6 foot distancing cannot be guaranteed
  • Winston County - All storm shelters open. Enter at own risk

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