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Hurricane season begins on June 1st. Are you prepared?

Disaster managers gear up, and so can you

We all know that everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it! Mark Twain – one of my favorites – also reminds us that climate is what we expect, but weather is what we get. I’ve always marveled at his ability to deliver insights to even the most serious aspects of the human condition with great good humor. As a disaster manager, I wonder if he wasn’t hinting at the need for us to be better prepared?

The 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1st to November 30th, and if the past is any indication, we’re going to hear a lot more about the weather this year, and its variability. This is an El Niño year, which means the Pacific Ocean is unusually warm. Historically, El Niños bring a milder Atlantic hurricane season and a more severe eastern Pacific season. In North America, El Niño years are also known for bringing extreme heat and the possibility of additional extreme weather events (Texas and Oklahoma floods, anyone?).

During most of the year, disaster managers work to maximize preparedness and implement ways to minimize disaster impacts on life, property, and the environment. We help communities plan, assess risk, design mitigation measures, and become more resilient. Now is the time of year when we elevate our own readiness to deal with storm impacts. We’ll keep an eye on them as they mature on their journey from West Africa to the Caribbean and North America. We’ll look at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)  “cone of probability,” wind speed projections, and forecast model outputs, and we’ll read their advisories. Not because we love disasters, but because we know how awful they can be and because we’re committed to doing what we can to reduce their cost.

And so should you. Just as with politics, all disasters are local. Government’s ability to respond is limited, and everybody has to take some responsibility for their own well-being. What did we do in the first 72 hours after a disaster before FEMA (1979) or Public Safety Canada (2003) were founded? Seems to me when society is better prepared, we are better able to take care of ourselves and others. And that not only helps lessen the workload of those who respond to our 911 calls, but it also acts as a force multiplier enabling them to do more. Take the time to manage personal risk.

Another favorite of mine, Ben Franklin, equated an ounce of prevention to a pound of cure. I’ve seen the data that tell us there is actually a return of between 4 and 7 to 1 for every dollar spent on preparedness, depending on the density of the impacted development. Still a pretty good deal, though. So much so that several state governments offer tax holidays for individual purchases of supplies and equipment for disaster preparedness (bonus: the list also includes school supply tax holidays!).

They know what we know: it’s cheaper to manage risk than manage a disaster. If you've never really been in a disaster, or in the aftermath of one, it is difficult to visualize. What disaster managers do is acknowledge the reality, have compassion for the impacted community, and work as hard and quickly as possible to restore the function and capacity of our damaged institutions, infrastructure, economy, social fabric, and environment. And at the start of this hurricane season, nothing would please us more than to enlist your help in creating fewer victims by being prepared.

Some of us will talk about it, some will get ready for it, and some will ignore it – we all get to manage risk as we see fit – but the reason we buy insurance, or wear our seat belts, or prepare for disasters, is that we’ve got a lot to lose and loved ones we want to protect. There are so many resources available to you, but in essence, you should:  know the risks, make a plan, and assemble an emergency kit. To learn more, see Public Safety Canada’s excellent Pocket Guide to Emergencies or the US National Weather Service’s great tutorial on tropical cyclones.

Wishing you a safe and stress-free hurricane season. Be prepared! 

Bob Schreibeis is a Certified Emergency Manager who has deployed to 14 disasters. He is Stantec’s disaster management program manager based in Washington, DC.

At the start of this hurricane season, nothing would please us more than to enlist your help in creating fewer victims by being prepared.

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