Disaster Preparedness & 2014 Atlantic-basin Hurricane Season
Written by Pete E Cento – Disaster Preparedness, Crisis Management, PR, Media Relations, Public Affairs, Community Relations, Special Projects Producer (The Cento Group, President, Naples, FL)
Naples, FL – The start of the 2014 Atlantic-basin hurricane season in Florida is just around the corner, June 1 – November 30. Every year millions of Americans who live in Florida, the Gulf Coast and along the east coast of the U.S. are potentially in the bull’s eye for being impacted by tornadoes, severe storms, flooding, tropical storms and hurricanes in the region.
This year marks the 10 anniversary of the devastating impact of Hurricane Charley in Southwest Florida. Charley was the third named storm, the second hurricane, and the second major hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic-basin hurricane season. Hurricane Charley made landfall on the southwest coast of Florida near Cayo Costa, just west of Ft. Myers around 3:45 p.m. EDT on August 13, with maximum sustained surface winds near 150 mph. At maximum strength, Charley was the strongest hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Andrew struck Southeast Florida in Miami-Dade County twelve years before, in 1992.
What happens when a disaster hits a local community?
From 2005 to 2012 I worked as multilingual public affairs officer and external affairs field specialist with the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency. During that time I was deployed to more than 40 disasters from California to Massachusetts. I’ve also been media spokesperson for AT&T Wireless, Bell South, University of Miami, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) during the annual Atlantic-basin hurricane season.
Every time I was deployed to a new disaster in the U.S., I conducted media interviews with newspaper editors, online media, bloggers, public and broadcast radio and television stations. Typically I was asked why is FEMA not there handing out money, water, food, medicine, blankets, clothes, etc., the day after a major hurricane, tropical storm or tornado strikes a community?
My response was “FEMA is not a first responder. The American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and local churches and faith-based organizations are tasked with being the first relief agencies and/or non-profits on hand to help disaster survivors in the immediate days after a natural disaster. FEMA works closely with state and local emergency managers to assess the long-term needs of disaster survivors.”
“We pre-stage emergency supplies throughout the county in advance of a major disaster, e.g., Cat 4 or 5 Hurricanes, major earthquake or major flooding that impacts an entire community, etc. We are partners in the initial response phase but especially during the recovery phase of a disaster. We are guests of (whatever state I happen to be working in at the time). They are the lead agency in this disaster and we are here to help them.”
What do local authorities in Southwest Florida mean?
Local authorities are representatives with Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee and Sarasota County Office of Emergency Management, City of Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda Office of Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security, and whatever other local municipality is working with local emergency managers. Everyone needs to check ahead of time with your local authorities to determine what he or she needs to do in the immediate days after a disaster.
What is a Family Emergency Disaster Communication Plan?
More importantly, every individual has to prepare for any disaster whether its man-made, weather related, biological, chemical, etc., by developing a personal family emergency disaster communication plan that includes disaster emergency supplies for each member of your family, a minimum of 5 – 7 days. The emergency communication plan and disaster emergency supplies should also include the needs of your pets, children and elderly individuals who may be living with you at home or nearby.
What do I need to include in a Disaster Emergency Supplies Kit?
Don’t wait until there is a hurricane or tropical storm watch or warning that may impact the residents of Southwest Florida, Southeast Florida or the Florida Keys to prepare. NOW is the time to put together your disaster emergency supplies kit that should include the following:
- A gallon of drinking water per person per day for at least five to seven days.
- Enough non-perishable food items, a manual can opener per person for at least five to seven days.
- Two months of medication for your children, pets, and grandparents
- Stock up on extra batteries, new flashlights, a NOAA weather radio, non-perishable foods, a manual can opener, candles, an extra tank of propane gas for your barbecue grill.
- Extra batteries already charged for all of your mobile devices.
Also, it would be a good idea to have an old-fashioned wired landline phone in your house that you can use just in case the electricity goes out. Remember – all those fancy cordless phones that do everything except make espresso – are no good to you if the electricity goes down for days or even weeks.
One more thing – if you are able to do so, purchase a large diesel powered or propane powered generator and have it installed in your home PRIOR to the start of the new hurricane season on June 1. Especially if you are some else in your household is dependent on oxygen, a respirator, or other device that needs to be connected to electricity 24 hours a day, seven-days-a-week. Unfortunately, FPL is the only option when it comes to electricity for most of us and time and time again they perform miserably after a major storm, never mind a tropical storm or hurricane.
The bottom line is – you and only you are responsible for the safety and well being of your family before, during and after a disaster. Don’t blame the media, elected officials, state representatives, local emergency managers, The White House or President Obama if you’re not prepared.
Here are some valuable websites to help you prepare and keep your family safe:
Be Prepared. Have a Plan. Keep Your Family Safe.