What do the names Bertha, Cristobal, Isaias, Nana and Rene have in common? Aside from being snappy monikers for new babies, these five names have the dubious honor of being on the list of titles for hurricanes and tropical storms this summer. Thanks to the pandemonium caused by a certain virus, hurricane season has almost appeared out of nowhere in 2020. But with May 3rd to May 9th being Hurricane Preparedness Week, the time is right to forecast how this summer’s storms can affect your community or organization.
The 2020 Hurricane Forecast is Quite Bleak
First things first, hurricane season 2020 is shaping up to be active. Early predictions released by experts at Colorado State University show a total of sixteen named storms, with eight being designated as hurricanes and four of those being listed as major hurricanes. This is significantly higher than the 30-year average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. On top of this, there is a 69% chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall in the US (compared with the 100-year odds of 52%) with the chance of any hurricane hitting the coast being a near certainty.
And while the early-season forecasts don’t always come true, it only takes one Hurricane Harvey, Irma or Maria to inflict untold carnage across a vast area. After the devastation of Katrina in 2005, the US experienced a relatively calm decade from 2006 to 2015. However, the aforementioned Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, Florence and Michael in 2018 and Dorian in 2019 have firmly reminded everyone of the havoc that these storms can wreak. But as scary as any storm can be, how can we prepare for a hurricane during a pandemic?
Hurricane Preparedness in the Social Distancing Era
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), almost 40% of small businesses never reopen their doors after a disaster. This is a pretty startling statistic and underscores the importance of effective planning to mitigate the effects of a hurricane. But even hurricane preparedness can only get you so far in the face of a Category 4 hurricane. There are copious resources available on how best to plan for hurricanes (the Department of Homeland Security have a hurricane guide and a risk assessment) but the major issue to contend with in 2020 is how to keep employees and the community safe.
“COVID is bad, a hurricane is bad. If you combine the two, it is greater than the sum,” said Bryan Koon, who until 2017 directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management, and who is currently an independent advisor on emergencies.
“The impact of a hurricane during a COVID environment will be worse than either of them even combined. It will be a multiplier effect, not an additive effect,” he told AFP.
When the Wind Starts to Blow, Where Will We Go?
While the traditional hurricane plans of stocking up on supplies, protecting property and safeguarding company records are still relevant, evacuation plans will need a drastic re-think. Thousands rely on emergency shelters in places like Florida but cramming huge numbers of people into one building will leave many facing a stark choice.
“People are going to have to make hard decisions,” said Koon. “Would I rather stay here and risk my life with a roof blown off my house or a storm surge? Or would I rather go get in the car and drive somewhere and risk being exposed to COVID-19?”
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have attempted to address this issue with guidance on face coverings, hand sanitizer and social distance recommendations, the risk of COVID-19 transmission in a crowded space is so high that even these steps won’t help much. With healthcare systems already overwhelmed and likely to stay that way for some time, unprecedented evacuation procedures will be required.
“Hope is not the strategy we need right now,” said Koon. “We need really dedicated hard planning.”
The Red Cross Offers a Template for Safe Sheltering
When tornadoes struck the Southeast in April, the Red Cross turned to a revised playbook and responded with social distancing in mind. Instead of opening shelters, where COVID-19 could run amok, it worked with hotels to put storm victims into rooms. Its volunteers, normally on the scene after disasters, jumped into emergency response coordination work from home.
This approach may not be scalable to cover the fallout from hurricanes but it shows what creative thinking can achieve. However, getting the message out to those affected in time to execute any new plan is essential to its success.
Effective Communication Is Key in Any Hurricane Scenario
Unlike crises such as active shooters or chemical explosions, hurricanes are distinct in that their arrival can be anticipated. As mentioned above, however, this does not mean that you should wait until the last minute to prepare.
To keep your employees or community safe, you need to quickly broadcast health and safety messages. You also need the ability to update information to meet people’s changing needs throughout the crisis. Thankfully, CentrAlert has a simple solution.
Weather NOW! Sends NOAA Reports Directly to Any Device
Part of CentrAlert’s suite of Adaptive Intelligent Controls, Weather NOW! automatically sends preset messages to specific people via any communication channel warning them of a weather crisis. Weather NOW! receives information directly from the National Weather Service (NWS) or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), unlike other applications that rely on third-party interfaces to receive their weather data. This module can also be combined with CentrAlert’s patented Advisor Alert Radio™ (AAR) to allow localized control of escalating events.
All of these solutions can be adapted to fit any hurricane preparedness plan and if you want more information on how CentrAlert can help protect your municipality or organization from severe weather events, please click here.