Reminders Abound of Need for Hurricane Season Preparedness
As we enter September, we are now about halfway through the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season that began on June 1st and will end on November 30th. Across the southeast USA and along the Atlantic coast businesses, schools, health care facilities, agencies, not-for-profit organizations, communities as well as families and individuals should have already taken steps to prepare for the threat from such storms. However, if you have not already implemented the preparedness measures there are several recent prompts that serve as reminders to help motivate you.
First, this week marked the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (see the Washington Post Blog report on the 10th anniversary of Katrina here). That storm serves as a powerful motivator for engaging in preparedness steps. Hurricane Katrina is the third most intense and destructive hurricane to make landfall in the United States (the 1935 “Labor Day hurricane” and the 1969 “Hurricane Camille” are #1 and #2 on that list). More than 1,200 people died during the storm and subsequent floods, and property damage was at least USD $108 billion.
Second, thinking about 10th year anniversaries regarding hurricanes, you may want to note that the State of Florida has not experienced a direct hurricane hit since 2005 (historically and statistically that is an outlier and should not be assumed as a predictor of the future lack of hurricane landfalls). Dennis Mersereau writing on his BLOG reminds us that it has been ten years since the last hurricane made landfall in Florida. The last storm to strike Florida was Hurricane Wilma that made landfall at the southwestern tip of the state on October 24, 2005. Mersereau notes “ten years is a long time for people to forget what to do and how to act when a storm is on its way. Florida was home to about 17.7 million people back in 2005, and now the state is home to almost 20 million people, which is an increase of about two million people since the last hurricane.” (to read more of Mersereau’s post see Hurricane Erika threatens to break lucky streak for Florida)
Third, this week also finds a fast moving tropical storm (Erika) that is a potential landfall threat to the USA Southeast. For those of us (like me) based in Florida this is of particular interest. The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows southern Florida within Erika’s “cone of uncertainty;” the general area in which the storm may travel. If Florida is impacted, the storm could make landfall during the early morning hours on Monday or Tuesday as a hurricane or a strong tropical storm. Beyond Florida, it is too early to tell whether Erika will take a turn to the west toward the Gulf of Mexico, or northward with potential impacts farther up the Atlantic coast. (for more see Florida and US Southeast threatened by Erika).
There are other tropical (depressions) systems forming at the edge of West Africa that could provide a series of potential hurricanes for the “heavy” part of this 2015 season. By the way, the named storms behind Erika include Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Joaquin, Kate, Larry and Mindy.
These anniversaries and emerging storms are also preparedness reminders for those of you who are in the risk zones for Hurricanes (Tropical Cyclones or Typhoons) in the eastern, central and western Pacific regions. The Pacific hurricane season began May 15th and also ends November 30th. As I was writing this essay, Hurricane Ignacio and Hurricane Jimena were both moving westward across the Pacific ocean.
The basic message from all of these reminders is that the time to prepare for tropical storms and/or hurricanes is now. The core risks from hurricanes include the dangers of storm surge flooding, high destructive surf at the coastland, heavy rain flooding, wind damage, lightning damage, tornadoes. Secondary threats include disruptions due to utilities outages, contaminated water supplies, no electricity to operate gasoline pumps, road closures, offline transportation systems, stranded travelers, downed telephone and power lines, loss of ATM and banking functions, inaccessible supplies, employee absenteeism, as well as health care capacity surge challenges.
According to the National Hurricane Center, “…the primary hazards from hurricanes are storm surge flooding, inland flooding from heavy rains, destructive winds, tornadoes, and high surf and rip currents. While hurricanes pose the greatest threat to life and property, tropical storms and depressions can also be devastating. Flooding from heavy rains can cause extensive damage and loss of life. For example, Tropical Storm Allison produced more than 40 inches of rain in the Houston area in 2001, causing about $5 billion in damage and taking the lives of 41 people. Storm surge has the potential to cause the largest loss of life in hurricanes. Since 1963, storm surge has caused nearly half of the deaths in the United States in tropical cyclones. Water, not wind, has accounted for nearly 90 percent of all tropical cyclone deaths in the U.S. during that time. Storm surge is dangerous because a mere six inches of fast-moving floodwater can knock over an adult. It takes only two feet of rushing water to carry away most vehicles–including large pickup trucks and SUVs. The strong winds of a hurricane can cause widespread destruction. Hurricane Hugo was a fast-moving, category 4 storm that made landfall near Charleston, South Carolina. Hugo brought destructive hurricane-force winds hundreds of miles inland, downing numerous trees and power lines over a swath from the Atlantic coast to the southern Appalachians. Millions were left without power and the resulting damage totaled in the billions of dollars. Tornadoes are also common with land falling tropical systems. In recorded history, almost every tropical storm and hurricane that has come onshore in the U.S. has produced a tornado. These tornadoes most often occur in thunderstorms embedded in the storm’s rain bands, well away from the center of the hurricane. Strong winds of a tropical cyclone can also cause dangerous waves that pose a significant hazard to mariners and coastal residents and visitors. When the waves break along the coast, they can produce deadly rip currents, even at large distances from the storm. In 2008, despite the fact that Hurricane Bertha was more than a 1,000 miles offshore, the storm resulted in rip currents that killed three people along the New Jersey coast and required 1,500 lifeguard rescues in Ocean City, Maryland, over a 1 week period.” National Hurricane Center
What should you do to prepare for a hurricane?
- Create a hurricane preparedness plan.
- Ask the right questions and get prepared – including assessing your risks
- What needs to be done in advance in order to be prepared?
- Who is responsible for doing each of these things?
- What resources as needed to accomplish these tasks?
- Does everyone know and understand the plan and their role/responsibilities?
- What needs to be done when the plan is activated before, during and after a storm?
- Where do I go?
- What do I do? – What needs to be done? Who is responsible for doing it?
- When does it need to be done? How?
- How will I know our status or what new development require adjustment in our plan?
- Have a communication plan that enables you to implement your hurricane plan and keep everyone informed and coordinated.
- Test and Revise the plans periodically.
- Assess your readiness and inform, educate and train all of your key people.
The most important first step is to identify your hurricane risk. Is your business located in an evacuation or flood zone? What are the dangers from storm surge flooding? Where would you go if you were forced to evacuate. How would you continue to function and sustain operations? Have you anticipated power and utilities outages? What steps can be taken to mitigate damage to facilities and equipment? When would you activate your plan? Does everyone know the plan and his or her role for implementing it? You must have a detailed communication plan to ensure that you are able to stay in touch with employees, officials, customers, vendors, suppliers, and members of the community. You should also have each employee establish a family hurricane plan and a family communication plan in case you are not together when you need to evacuate.
An appropriate hurricane preparedness/disaster safety plan should be developed to help ensure employees’, customers’ and partners’ as well as individual’s and a family’s safety. A disaster safety plan is a comprehensive plan that identifies all of the steps needed to take before, during, and after a disaster to ensure maximum safety, business operations and property protection.
There are many resources available to assist you in developing a hurricane preparedness plan for your business, home or group. For a basic general guide on creating a disaster plan please see Florida’s “Get a Plan” guide. (To learn more visit the State of Florida Get a Plan Website). Outside of Florida you may want to visit your State Emergency Management Agency websites for disaster plan templates that may be more suited to a local area. To find your local Emergency Management Office click here. Learn how to better prepare your home and business for disaster by downloading the free book: Disaster Ready People for a Disaster Ready America.
To learn more about professional disaster preparedness for businesses, education, healthcare and local government please contact me at [email protected].