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A Hurricane Season Like No Other
By: Ray Perry CEM - Portsmouth Emergency Management Agency
Each year hurricane season begins on June 1st and lasts 5 months, with storms typically peaking in August and September. As with every hurricane season knowing the essentials of how to prepare may be a life saver. But as we face an above average 2020 season of storm activity along our eastern coast, the essentials are different. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a 60% chance of an above average season with 13–19 named storms, and 3-6 major hurricanes. Climate change brings warmer seas that contribute to larger and slower moving storms capable of delivering significantly greater precipitation than in the past. Inland roads and dams along with coastal areas are at greater risk due to increased inland flooding such as those during Super Storm Sandy, making it much more challenging to identify safe evacuation routes and safety destinations. Social distancing and loss of incomes due to COVID-19 add other considerations in planning for both evacuation and the search for safe shelter.
The good news is we can mitigate this convergence of risks, but it requires planning on both the part of government and everyone living in areas threatened by hurricanes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the American Red Cross, and almost every advocacy group representing seniors, persons with special needs, pets or livestock offer preparedness information on their web-sites. Most of our State and local agencies and organizations do the same.
MEET THE CHALLENGES
Four Achievable Steps
Due to the challenges of this upcoming Hurricane Season, I’d like to focus on the new considerations and offer four very achievable steps that ensure a safer and less uncertain 2020 hurricane season.
STEP ONE - Recognize the risk is considerably higher.
1) Category 4 or 5 hurricanes are more probable in our area due to the warming climate. The center of the 1938 category 3 hurricane, considered by many to be Rhode Island’s worst in U.S. history, made land fall closer to New York City than Rhode Island.
So, STEP ONE, recognize the risk is considerably higher.
STEP TWO - Understand the potential for damage and check your policies to develop your mitigation strategies.
2) Wind may be more of a problem than flooding for many of us. Storm surge predictions are depicted on flood inundation maps informing us of who should have flood insurance and prepare for an evacuation. We seem to focus on getting everyone out of the flood zones, and this remains a priority. But if you live in a mobile home you should be familiar with the manufactured Home Construction and Safety Code (or HUD Code) which was brought into effect in 1976. Mobile Homes built after 1976 must meet certain construction standards that are determined based on the geographical wind zone the home is located, for withstanding wind. Portsmouth is in a wind zone II area and thus our mobile homes need to be constructed to withstand winds of 100 mph. However, other more complex factors come into play, and so mobile homeowners should refer to the regulations to determine and evaluate how their home is rated.
Our wooden homes are required under our existing building codes to be constructed to withstand winds of 110 mph. A category 3 hurricane brings winds of 111 mph or greater that may cause well-built wooden framed homes to incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. A home in a flood zone should be constructed to avoid the waves and insured against flood damage under the FEMA required flood insurance program. But if the wind destroys your home, having flood insurance alone may not make recovery easier. Unfortunately, some homes covered by flood insurance mat not be covered for wind damage.
Relatively cheap modifications to a home, especially during new construction, can substantially increase a home’s resiliency to wind. Consider the recommendations with your contractor that are offered by FEMA in their guidance on their Residential Construction Web site at http://www.fema.gov/rebuild/mat/fema55.shtm.
So, STEP TWO, understand the potential for damage and check your policies to develop your mitigation strategies. Consider design features that will make your home more resilient to hurricanes.
STEP THREE - Obtain your supplies at the beginning of hurricane season.
3) Shopping tends to take longer with COVID-19 social distancing measures in place. Now imagine as we move from a hurricane watch to a hurricane warning (issued 36 hours in advance of the “anticipated” onset of tropical storm force winds}, and rushing to buy food, batteries, extra medications, gas for your vehicles, wood to cover windows, as well as taking care of the senior citizens and pets in your family.
So, STEP THREE, obtain your supplies at the beginning of hurricane season. If you wait for a hurricane watch to be set, you may have made being prepared more difficult and uncertain for you and your family.
STEP FOUR - Draft a plan with your family to remain out of harms-way from point of departure through arrival at your sheltering location.
4) Sheltering will need to comply with CDC social distancing requirements, making emergency sheltering much more challenging. Our traditional hurricane shelters utilizing open floor plans with cots lined up in rows will not work under pandemic conditions, and those that are in isolation or quarantine will need special sheltering support. Families planning to stay with relatives, friends or other locations will need to consider social distancing, a practice that may alter the availability of evacuation destinations. Confirm well in advance of severe weather that your planned destination is still a viable option. Families may need to travel further to find safe shelter, meaning the decision to evacuate may need to be made sooner than under similar storm conditions in the past.
So, STEP FOUR, draft a plan with your family to remain out of harms-way from point of departure through arrival at your sheltering location, taking into consideration what might delay or slow down your evacuation. Also consider any limitations on your safe sheltering options.
In summary, every household in Portsmouth should have an evacuation plan, and in that plan account for limited travel options and increased time needed for evacuation. Plan for a safe destination, and confirm well in advance that the destination is available considering COVID-19 CDC guidelines. Get your emergency provisions, go-kits, home protection supplies, as well as your insurance and important documents updated and ready for a hurricane. The first quarter of 2020 has caused unprecedented levels of uncertainty and stress for all of us, but you may reduce that stress for you and your family by preparing early.