Like many of my fellow Texans, I was shocked when Senator Ted Cruz was recently spotted not wearing a mask on a flight from Dallas to Houston as COVID-19 cases were spiking across the state. Pandemic petulance is pretty on brand for the junior senator, but his latest fit of obstinacy comes at a particularly dangerous time: hurricane season.
This is a personal issue for me. Up until my recent retirement from the Army, I served as a COVID-19 crisis planner at NORTHCOM in Colorado Springs. I was part of the team managing this crisis since January, when we first started evacuating U.S. citizens out of China. Further, my active duty military career was bifurcated by a stint in the Army Reserves. During that time, I worked in Emergency Management at the state and local level in Texas. I was in the Texas Emergency Operations Center on Sept. 11, and I’ve worked disasters all over, including several hurricanes.
And a hurricane in the middle of a pandemic was very much on our minds at NORTHCOM. We started calling it the COVICANE. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling for an above-average Atlantic Hurricane Season this year with a possibility of 19 named storms. We based some of our planning off Hurricane Harvey, which struck Cruz’s hometown of Houston in 2017. Typically, the National Guard and some active duty forces respond to hurricanes to provide things like search and rescue, engineering, and medical support. Rooftop helicopter rescues make for dramatic footage, but the truth is that the military does not do the bulk of the work. Instead, volunteer organizations like the Red Cross lead the effort by managing shelters, feeding the hungry, and processing displaced families. My team looked at how COVID-19 might impact volunteers. What we found was scary.
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