Hurricane Emergency Preparedness and Citizen Communications

Written by Katie Gennaro

Hurricane severity is on the rise. Learn how to keep citizens informed before, during, and after a deadly event.
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In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the nation stands together, rebuilding and recovering from one of the most destructive and devastating hurricane seasons in our nation’s history. As we focus on helping our fellow citizens rebuild their homes and recover their lives, it is important to keep in mind that hurricane season is not yet over and that not only the southernmost states are at risk of these dangerous and powerful forces of nature.

Whether you are in a community historically impacted by the threat of hurricanes, or simply located in a coastal community that is typically spared during hurricane season, take a moment to review our hurricane preparedness and citizen communication strategies. As our nation collectively holds its breath and continues to monitor the skies and seas for the next few months, every community should be proactively prepared with a safety communication strategy.

Hurricane Season and Destruction in 2017

Typically, Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 through November 30. While the severity of the storms we have seen in 2017 was not unpredicted, it is somewhat unprecedented. On August 9, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an updated outlook for the Atlantic hurricane season which advised, “Forecasters are now predicting a higher likelihood of an above-normal season, and they increased the predicted number of named storms and major hurricanes.”

At the time, the agency predicted this season we would see 14 to 19 named storms, five to nine hurricanes (a storm with winds reaching 74 mph or more), and two to five major hurricanes (with winds reaching 111 mph or more). In a typical season, the average is 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes. These figures reinforce that 2017 has been above average in size and ferocity of these Atlantic storms.

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Communities at Risk

According to NOAA, 88 percent of major hurricane strikes in our nation’s history have hit either Florida or Texas, and 40 percent of all U.S. hurricanes have hit Florida.

According to a recent article from the USA Today, the ten U.S. counties most vulnerable to hurricanes include:

  • Desoto, FL
  • Houston (County), TX
  • Polk, TX
  • Issaquena, MS
  • Highlands, FL
  • Avoyelles, LA
  • Walker, TX
  • Wilkinson, MS
  • Glades, FL
  • Kemper, MS

While coastal and southern coastal communities are most at risk of a hurricane, even the almost entirely landlocked state of Pennsylvania once fell victim to a hurricane back in 1898. States that have taken a direct hurricane hit between 1851 and 2015 include:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Virginia

If your city, county, township, or other municipality is located near the coast in any of these states, review our hurricane preparedness citizen communication tips below.

Hurricane Preparedness Citizen Communications

Each year, at the start of hurricane season, distribute the following hurricane safety reminder communications to your residents:

Hurricane Safety Preparedness

  • Know if you are in an evacuation zone, and know your evacuation route(s).
  • Assess your home to determine if it is vulnerable to flooding, storm surge, or wind damage. If it is, proactively work to make the improvements necessary to mitigate structural damage should a storm
  • Help mitigate the risk of damage to your home by removing potential hazards around your property. Trim trees, secure or store loose backyard furniture, and clear clogged rain gutters.
  • Keep a list of emergency contacts in an easy-to-find location in your home that includes local emergency management offices, local law enforcement, hospitals, utility providers, fire and rescue services, and your property insurance agent.
  • Keep emergency food and supplies stocked in your home, such as bottled water, a first aid kit, battery-operated flashlights, and canned food.
  • Sign up to receive notifications, weather warnings, and safety alerts from your local government.
  • If you are advised to evacuate do so for your own safety and security.

Safety Tips When a Hurricane is Imminent

If you are in the imminent path of a hurricane and were not able to evacuate, follow these safety procedures:

  • Stay at home and let friends and family know your location.
  • Close storm shutters and stay away from windows.
  • Turn your refrigerator to the coldest setting and only open when necessary to preserve food if your power goes out.
  • Ensure your vehicle is full of gas and stocked with extra clothes and emergency supplies.
  • Charge your cell phone to ensure you have as much battery life as possible in case you lose power for any period of time (which could range from minutes to days).
  • Check the latest news from your local government and NOAA regularly.

Hurricane Recovery Tips

If your home has been damaged or destroyed, the recovery process will take time, but know that there are resources available to you to help ease the process of starting over. To minimize further risk to property or personal safety, follow these tips during the days immediately following a hurricane:

  • Return home only when authorities have advised it is safe to do so.
  • Beware of debris and downed power lines.
  • Avoid walking or driving through flood waters.
  • Avoid floodwater as it may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines and may obscure dangerous debris.
  • Continue to watch and listen for updates, news, alerts, and instructions from your local government.

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Local Government Emergency Communication Best Practices

If tropical storm or hurricane is projected to impact your community, follow these emergency preparedness communication best practices:

Communicate Early and Often.

For news, updates, alerts, and instructions during a natural disaster, citizens will turn first to their local government leaders. Keep citizens informed from the start of the event all the way through the recovery efforts. Share relevant and actionable information such as links to evacuation routes and emergency shelters, safety tips, and the latest news and updates on the recovery efforts.

Maintain a Calm Tone in All Communications.

Your citizens will feel more confident that their community is being protected and that their safety is being maintained if all your communications utilize a calm, confident, and informative tone. Make sure all news, updates, and information that you distribute have been verified and validated. During an emergency event, when a variety of credible and informal sources are all sharing information rapidly, the distribution of inaccurate information may complicate safety efforts.

Use All Available Channels to Distribute Safety Information, News, and Updates.

This should include social media, your local government website, text messages, phone, and email alerts. An emergency mass notification system can help expedite multi-channel communications.

eBook: Leverage Social Media in Crisis Communications

Tap into the IPAWS Network.

Created by FEMA, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) leverages national emergency communication channels such as emergency alert systems (EAS), wireless emergency alerts, NOAA weather radios, and public TVS, and signage to provide area-specific alerts in times of emergency. It enables you to reach as many people as possible, including those who have not previously opted in to emergency notifications, including visitors and nearby travelers.

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By communicating preparedness and safety information to citizens regularly, the number of annual hurricane casualties can be reduced. Click below for more information on how an emergency mass notification system with IPAWS can help you reach as many citizens as possible with emergency news and safety instructions.