As the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season commenced on June 1 and runs through November 30, the NOAA predicts a season that is ‘near-normal.’ Forecasters anticipate somewhere between 12 and 17 total named storms, including 5 to 9 which become hurricanes and 1 to 4 which are major hurricanes (category 3, 4, or 5). At time of writing, Tropical Storm Arlene has already marked the first named storm of the season as a short-lived Gulf of Mexico storm that tracked southward.
Image Credit: NOAA
During the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season, NOAA’s pre-season and updated outlooks were fairly accurate. However, it was a unique season defined by a mid-season pause of activity in the month of August, before Hurricanes Fiona and Ian made landfall in Puerto Rico and Florida in September and a rare late-season storm, Hurricane Nicole, struck in November.
The devastation of the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season cannot be underscored. Hurricane Ian tied as the fifth-strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the U.S. and caused approximately 166 fatalities (150 in Florida), $112.9B in damages, significant coastal flooding, and 15 tornadoes, among other impacts. As emergency managers look ahead to the peak of the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Pre-Crisis Education is Paramount
Hurricane Ian has suggested that modifications to hurricane risk communication may be necessary. In the instance of the 2022 storm, the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) “cone of uncertainty” graphic was misunderstood by many, including federal, state, and local officials and the general public, a number of whom hyper focused on a Tampa landfall. This reinforces the importance of pre-crisis education.
Before a major hurricane hits this season, emergency managers can incorporate considerations such as those listed below into their plans for continuous public and internal education related to hurricane preparedness, modeling, and more.
- The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a study that suggested that many residents (in this case, Floridian residents) may have difficulty interpreting several aspects of the NHC’s “cone of uncertainty” graphic. This suggests ongoing opportunities for education as well as potential revisions to graphical communication strategies with the public.
- The Acting Director of the National Hurricane Center spoke to the South Florida Sun Sentinel about preparedness for the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Jamie Rhome spotlighted that over emphasis on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale can downplay critical impacts of storms, like storm surge and flooding. This reinforces why it is important for educational efforts and communications to incorporate the impacts of other hazards – for example, has education been provided to enable residents to interpret the impact of a storm surge watch or warning in the same way that they do a hurricane watch or warning?
2. Planning for the Whole Community Requires Continuous Improvement
Individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs (AFN) tend to be disproportionately impacted by disasters and may require special assistance from emergency management systems to meet unique needs. This was no different during the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season, where in Lee County, for example, Hurricane Ian had a profound impact on older and disabled residents. As jurisdictions complete their After Action Reports (AARs), there will be more findings on what is already a highly-publicized topic, how government can better serve individuals with AFN in disasters.
For emergency management systems to be able to meet needs equitably, they must adopt considerations for the whole community in preparedness, response, and recovery initiatives to ensure all segments of the community can be appropriately served. Conversely, emergency management agencies must also ensure that individuals with AFN are armed with adequate knowledge to promote inclusive individual preparedness. Below are some tools and resources for how emergency management officials can strengthen the inclusion of and accessibility for individuals with AFN.
- Ready.gov continuously updates resources that reinforce potential ways for an individual who may be impacted by a disability to effectively prepare for emergencies and disasters.
- The Pacific ADA Center provides a host of preparedness publications and resources for governmental agencies and represents an example of a type of community partner that can be leveraged by local and state emergency managers as both a resource to inform planning and operations and as a trusted communicator of messaging to communities.
- ADA.gov has a featured topic for emergency planning that also includes more detailed guidance and resource materials and laws, regulations, and standards. Many states also have a defined office and/or resources for emergency managers to contact for assistance in incorporating both legislation and best practices for inclusive emergency management.
3. Large Disasters Significantly Increase Incident Complexity
Local government has the primary responsibility of responding to and recovering from most disasters, however, the National Response Framework (NRF) provides a scalable framework for operational coordination based on the severity of an incident. This means that local government has to be prepared to not only execute response but to also be able to integrate tiered levels of support from all levels of government, the private sector, and other non-governmental organizations. Below are a few tools and resources that explore implications for how large disasters contribute to incident complexity:
- Mitigation of a “disaster within a disaster” may be necessary to avoid overwhelming an existing emergency management response system post-disaster. For example, volunteer management and donations management are two aspects of disaster response and recovery that should be planned for within a Volunteer and Donations Management ESF/Support Annex that is updated accordingly based on real-world application.
- The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) is the nation’s all-hazards national mutual aid system and is an example of an interstate mutual aid agreement that can be forged to streamline requests for additional resources in the event of a disaster. EMAC’s After Action Reviews are publicly available for notable disasters over the past several years and represent a way to receive feedback from the non-local perspective.
While it remains to be seen if the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season aligns with the predictions of the NOAA, the importance of hurricane preparedness as we await the peak of the season cannot be underscored – for both emergency managers and the general public. Emergency managers need to use this initial portion of the season to reinforce hurricane preparedness and response education and to apply lessons learned from the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season to initiatives.
Look for continued tips and blogs from the CONSTANT team. If you need help with hurricane preparedness, crisis communications, or after action reporting, we’ve got you! Email us at: email@example.com to discuss how CONSTANT can help your organization or jurisdiction.