Preparing for the 2018 Hurricane Season at FEMA
An infrared satellite image of a hurricane.
Infrared satellite image of Hurricane Maria near the time of peak intensity on Sept. 19, 2017, approaching the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. (Image from VIIRS satellite, courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.)

This is the second blog in a week-long series to highlight the importance of disaster preparedness. Follow us this week as we take a look at how NOAA prepares for natural and human-made disasters, and how you can prepare for the 2018 hurricane season. Share your #DisasterPreparedness strategy by commenting on our blog, or replying to our Twitter and Facebook.

The Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP) in the Office of Response and Restoration works to prepare the National Ocean Service and its partners to respond to and recover from pollution events and natural disasters. One of the ways we achieve this objective is to provide training to complement that provided by our partners such as the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The DPP has developed training on the science of coastal natural hazards and an Incident Command System 300 course for NOAA responders. In addition, the DPP provides support for exercises and drills to help NOAA and our partners familiarize themselves with these scenarios and identify areas for improvement to improve preparedness for a real event. The DPP participated in the last National Level Exercise on the NOS team and is currently working on an after-action report which will summarize the exercise and recommendations.

By Chris Landsea, National Hurricane Center

The 2017 hurricane season will long be remembered for the extreme devastation it caused in Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida as well as our neighbors in the Caribbean. While long-term recovery efforts continue, plans have to be readied for the soon-to-arrive hurricane season of 2018. No one knows how the United States will be affected by hurricanes this year, so plans must be prepared with the possibility that your community will be impacted.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in conjunction with partners in other federal agencies such as the National Weather Service/National Hurricane Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as emergency managers at the state, county, and city levels, have been working diligently to prepare for the hurricane season. This is done through training and outreach events coordinated by FEMA’s National Hurricane Program. The National Hurricane Program’s mission is to provide technical assistance to emergency managers at local, state, tribal, territorial and federal government partners on: 

  • Hurricane Preparedness Training;
  • Response and Evacuation Planning; and
  • Operational Decision Support.

A group of people in a conference.During this past winter and spring, the National Hurricane Program provided critical training for emergency managers that will help them to make well-informed decisions for the next hurricane. These life and death decisions include ordering evacuations of residents away from the coast, closing schools, and preparing their communities from the hurricane winds, storm surge, fresh water flooding, and tornadoes. This “off-season,” emergency managers have had the opportunity to get new or refresher training about hurricane forecast and hazards, new Hurricane Evacuation Studies (led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ), and how to commence the decision making process when a hurricane threatens by applying the HURREVAC Decision Support Tool.

Training sessions this past winter and spring were held in many locations, including the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the FEMA Region III office in Philadelphia, and in several states including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, and Texas. These trainings have resulted in hundreds of emergency managers receiving these crucial updates, and additional courses are scheduled for the summer. Such training is an annual necessity due to the availability of new forecast products by the National Weather Service /National Hurricane Center, revised Hurricane Evacuations Studies due to increasing populations along the coast, changes and updates to decision support tools and capability, and job turnover in the emergency management community. Trainings also promote the availability of operational decision support and technical assistance through FEMA’s Hurricane Liaison Team (HLT). The HLT is embedded at the National Hurricane Center and facilitates the rapid exchange of critical information between the NHC and the emergency management community.

In addition to the annual process of training, FEMA in 2018 led up a National Level Exercise for a simulated hurricane – “Cora” – that would hit the Virginia coast as a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and also make a direct strike on Washington, D.C. FEMA’s National Exercise Division led the planning and execution of this large-scale exercise which was held from April 30 to May 11, 2018. (While the 2017 hurricane season was quite active, FEMA and Emergency Managers in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia were – fortunately – not directly affected. This National Level Exercise allowed emergency managers in those locations to test and execute their hurricane planning, response, and recovery actions.)

A hurricane map.Simulated Cone graphical forecast for Hurricane Cora, used for the 2018 National Level Exercise. (This is NOT an actual hurricane, but is used for testing our nation’s preparedness for hurricane impacts.)

 

The purpose of this National Level Exercise 2018 was to examine the ability of all levels of government, private industry, and nongovernmental organizations to protect against, respond to, and recover from a major Mid-Atlantic hurricane with the following four themes:

  • Pre-hurricane landfall protective actions;
  • Sustained response in parallel with recovery planning;
  • Continuity of government in a natural disaster; and
  • Power outages and critical interdependencies.

It is through these detailed, realistic exercises that existing hurricane plans can be examined before the next storm threatens the United States. If gaps or problems are uncovered, they can be remedied so that FEMA and partners at the local, county, and state level can help people be safer and better prepared for when (not if) an actual hurricane comes to shore. It is also an opportunity to revisit lessons learned from the previous hurricane season and implement them during the exercise.

Moreover, the general public can and should become engaged with both hurricane preparedness training for your family and business. Here are some online options for learning more about hurricane hazards and how to be prepared down to the neighborhood level:

  • Ready.gov (Plan ahead for disasters. Talk with your family.)
  • Red Cross (The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.​)
  • The FEMA App (Receive alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations. Get safety reminders, read tips to survive natural disasters, and customize your emergency checklist. Locate open shelters and where to talk to FEMA in person [or on the phone]. Upload and share your disaster photos to help first responders.)
  • COMET (The COMET® Program is a world-wide leader in support of education and training for the environmental sciences, delivering scientifically relevant and instructionally progressive products and services.)

These efforts by FEMA’s National Hurricane Program and FEMA’s National Exercise Division are two of the ways that the nation will be more resilient the next time a hurricane threatens.

 

A man standing next to a NOAA logo.Chris Landsea with the National Hurricane Center wrote this blog. Chris had the unique opportunity through NOAA’s Leadership Competency Development Program to work at FEMAHeadquarters in Washington, D.C. for three months this winter. While at FEMA, he contributed to both the training conducted by the National Hurricane Program as well as developing the “ground truth” for Hurricane Cora’s simulated landfall into Virginia. Chris met and worked with the dedicated men and women in FEMA that work toward a shared mission of “Helping people before, during, and after disasters.”

“They truly embody this mission with their efforts to prepare the Emergency Management community with the tools and expertise to best deal with these catastrophic systems we call hurricanes,” Chris said. “The next time that the United States is hit by a landfalling hurricane whether in 2018 or the next season, the general public will be much better protected and prepared because of their efforts.”


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