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Hillsborough County Overhauls Shelters, Debuts 'AmbuBus'

A man in a green polo shirt and khaki pants stands inside a school buss retrofitted with spaces for 12 stretchers.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Jay Rajyaguru, the emergency management coordinator with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, shows off the inside of the new AmbuBus, which can carry up to 12 people on stretchers and a handful of others seated, during emergency evacuations instead of using ambulances.

Shelters will allot more space for individuals and families in keeping with social distancing measures. Additionally, the county debuted a new ambulance alternative for emergency evacuations.

Hurricane season starts June 1 and this year, evacuees can expect changes at Hillsborough County's emergency shelters.

A person staying at a county emergency shelter had been allotted 20 square feet to hunker down during a storm.

To account for social distancing, now individuals will each be granted 60 square feet, with an additional 20 square feet per family member.

A rectangle taped off on the ground to show a 60 square foot section and a 20 square foot section.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
A taped off area shows how much spaces individuals will be given at emergency evacuation shelters, and how much extras will be allotted per family member.

Katia Miller with Hillsborough County Emergency Management said the county's 47 shelters should be a last resort and urges people to seek shelter with friends or family first.

Shelters are considered a lifeboat, not a cruise ship," Miller said. "So they're not comfortable, they're loud, they can be very bright. So it's just not a very comfortable situation for people."

Miller added that if shelters get too full, social distancing could be impossible to maintain and people might be given less space.

She said individuals should bring the bare minimum, including a sleeping bag and pillow, medications, entertainment like playing cards or a book, and snacks.

Food will also be prepackaged instead of distributed buffet style.

Find evacuation zone and shelter information here.

County emergency management officials have also debuted their newest resource - the AmbuBus.

A bright yellow school bus with red and black lettering was retrofitted to hold 12 stretchers and a few seats.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
The "AmbuBus" was just debuted and a second one is in the works. Each cost about $50,000 to retrofit.

A $50,000 grant allowed the county to retrofit a school bus with the space for 12 stretchers, as well as seats for a few others.

Jay Rajyaguru, the emergency management coordinator with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, said it allows for more efficient evacuation of medically fragile people.

“In normal circumstances, we use maybe up to 12 ambulances to move people," Rajyaguru said. "They're taking those ambulances off the road and away from other people where we could deploy this bus now and move all those people at the same time and go into the same location in a much more efficient and safer fashion.”

Similar buses operate in Hernando and Manatee counties.

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.
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