Hillsborough County Overhauls Shelters, Debuts 'AmbuBus'
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.
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 $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.