FEMA

Day 2: Develop an Evacuation Plan

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Do You Know Your Zone?

Craig Fugate
Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
@CraigatFEMA / @fema

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in the FEMA Studio

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evac signHurricane season is almost here. The season officially starts June 1 and ends November 30. During these six months, forecasters watch hurricanes as they develop offshore. While we may see a hurricane coming, we won’t know the exact impact it will have on every community until it makes landfall. To ensure the safety of you and your family, don’t wait until it’s too late to prepare; find out your hurricane evacuation zone today.

It only takes one hurricane to change your life and your community. Now is the time to prepare. When a hurricane hits, it can bring high winds, heavy rainfall, storm surges, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents, and even tornadoes as part of a destructive, hard-hitting package. That’s why if you live in an area where hurricanes are a threat, you need to know where you’d go before the danger arrives and makes evacuation impossible.

Remember these key tips when it comes to hurricane preparedness:

Know your evacuation zone. Evacuations are more common than people realize. Many communities have designated evacuation routes and evacuation zones. Make yourself familiar with these evacuation zones, so if your local authorities issue an evacuation order, you’ll know if you need to leave. It’s also a good idea to know where you’d go if told to evacuate. Be sure to account for your pets, as most local shelters do not permit them. However, by law, public shelters do accept service animals. Remember: if a hurricane threatens your community and local officials say it’s time to evacuate, don’t hesitate — go as soon as you can.

Complete a family communication plan. Plan how you will assemble your family and loved ones, and anticipate where you will go depending on the situation. Choose several destinations in different directions so you have options in an emergency, and know the evacuation routes to get to those destinations. Get together with your family and agree on the ways to contact one another in an emergency, identify meeting locations, and make a Family Emergency Communication Plan.

Hurricane_Prepare_Day 2Sign up for local alerts on your phone. Sign up now so you can stay aware if a storm threatens. Visit https://www.ready.gov/alerts and learn how to search for local alerts and weather apps that are relevant for hazards that affect your area. Download the FEMA app for disaster resources, weather alerts, and safety tips. Earlier this month, FEMA launched a new feature to its free smartphone app that will enable users to receive push notifications to their devices to remind them to take important steps to prepare their homes and families for disasters. The app also provides a customizable checklist of emergency supplies, maps of open shelters and open recovery centers, tips on how to survive natural and manmade disasters, and weather alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations across the nation.

Make sure your insurance policies are up to date. Hurricanes have caused eight of the ten costliest disasters in U.S. history, and strong winds or just a few inches of water can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage to a typical home. Many states have increased deductibles for hurricanes, and not all hurricane-related losses are covered under traditional policies. Also, most homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover damage from flooding. Flood insurance ensures that consumers have adequate financial protection against the devastating effects of flooding, without having to rely on post-disaster loans (usually paid back with interest) or emergency assistance. If you have insurance, review your policy, ensure you’re adequately covered and understand any exclusions, and contact your agent for any needed changes. If you’re not insured against flooding, talk to your agent or visit floodsmart.gov. If you’re not a homeowner, renters insurance policies are also available and should be considered as they’re often low-cost methods of protecting your belongings.

Get prepared now and know what you’re going to do in the event of a hurricane. Planning ahead gives you more options and better control over situations that could become chaotic at the last moment if you’re not ready. To learn more about how to prepare for a hurricane visit ready.gov/hurricanes. Find out about preparedness drills or exercises in your area at ready.gov/prepare.

The “Outreach and Education” Season

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2014 NHC Outreach Slide

The staff at the National Hurricane Center is often asked about what they do during the “off-season.”   The off-season (December 1st thru May 15th) is a very busy time for employees of the Center.  Meteorologists in the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch continue their year-round forecast responsibilities, and staff in the Technology and Science Branch develop new forecast tools, upgrade user interfaces, and maintain NHC’s computers.  During the off-season, the Hurricane Specialist Unit’s around-the-clock forecasting role ceases; however, the staff take on other important functions that help improve forecasts and better prepare the public for the next hurricane event.  The Hurricane Specialist Unit’s off-season activities fall generally within the following areas:

  • Complete Tropical Cyclone Reports, seasonal review articles, and forecast verification of the previous season’s tropical cyclone forecasts
  • Work on tools to make the forecast process more efficient
  • Incorporate new scientific techniques and modeling to improve forecast accuracy
  • Develop enhancements to NHC tropical cyclone products and services
  • Provide outreach and education to key partners and customers

Each area of off-season focus is an important aspect in NHC’s ability to improve its services.  The outreach and educational component increases emergency manager and media understanding of NHC products, and public awareness of hurricane hazards and risk.

Training for Emergency Managers and Decision Makers

FEMA logoNHC staff facilitated nearly 10 weeks of training for emergency managers and fellow meteorologists throughout the United States and Caribbean during this past off-season.  Each year, the outreach and education period begins in earnest in January, when three one-week FEMA Hurricane Preparedness for Decision Maker courses are conducted at NHC.  Local and state emergency managers from the gulf, southeastern, and northeastern U.S. coastal areas learn about the NHC forecast process, products, and forecast uncertainty.  One day of the course is devoted to the storm surge hazard.  Partners from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provide information on the tools available that assist emergency managers in evacuation decision making.  Since the course is held at the NHC, it also allows an opportunity for the NHC staff to meet and interact with emergency managers that help protect local communities during tropical cyclone threats.  The course began in 1992 and continues to be refined today.  A one-day version of the course is taught at some state and/or national hurricane conferences, and a three-day version of the course is offered to one state each year.  This past off-season the three-day course was taught at the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management in West Trenton.

Training for International MeteorologistsWMO logo

In March, the NHC hosts a two-week World Meteorological Organization RA-IV Workshop on Hurricane Forecasting and Warning.  Forecasters from national meteorological agencies from 15 to 20 countries in the Caribbean, North and South America, and Asia participate.  The course is conducted in both English and Spanish and the visiting forecasters learn details about tropical analysis, satellite observing tools, and how NHC constructs tropical cyclone forecasts.

Training for National Weather Service Meteorologists

408491This past outreach and education season also featured two National Weather Service (NWS) Effective Hurricane Messaging Courses.  These workshops provided local NWS forecasters the opportunity to more thoroughly understand how NHC forecasts are made and how best to communicate potential tropical cyclone hazards to emergency managers, the media, and the public.  The workshop also allowed NHC staff and NWS forecasters to become more familiar with each other’s responsibilities during hurricane events.  The workshop will help strengthen the NWS tropical cyclone warning coordination process and ensure a consistent message is communicated throughout the agency.

Discussions during these gatherings often focus on how best to communicate the tropical cyclone threat and potential hazards.  These discussions sometimes result in ideas for new products or enhancements to existing NHC products and services.

NHC’s mission to save lives and mitigate property loss begins with a better public understanding of the hazards posed by tropical cyclones.  Next time you think of the NHC “off-season”, remember it as the “Outreach and Education” season.  As former NHC Director Max Mayfield said, “the battle against hurricanes is won outside the hurricane season.”  Take the time to educate yourself before the next tropical cyclone threat by learning about hurricane and storm surge risk in your community.  If you live in an evacuation zone, have a plan and a designated place to go to ride out the storm.  Become hurricane prepared!  For more information on hurricane preparedness see http://www.hurricanes.gov/prepare or http://www.ready.gov/hurricanes.

— Dan Brown and Robbie Berg