Disaster Preparedness: What You Need to Know

by | Nov 6, 2017 | COMMUNITY

Hurricane season is here, and this one’s already a doozy. According to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 2017 season holds records for the highest number of major hurricanes in more than 10 years, and the highest number of consecutive hurricanes since the satellite era — such as Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Katia. Explanations for these trends range from climate change to unpredictable global patterns to simple randomness.

James Keck, a professor of Emergency Management at VCU,  has a lot of experience with hurricanes as the former Deputy State Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM). And with all that one-on-one time spent with natural disaster, Keck has come up with some theories of his own.

Hurrican Irma and Hurrican Jose. Photo by NOAA

“In Revelations, it talks about the end of the world — and if you believe in god, I think that he knew if he put all these people on Earth, there would be a breaking point,” he said. “Anybody that logically thinks this through has to realize that we’re stressing this planet to its limit and that it’s bound to react.”

Apocalypse or not, there are definitely ways to be prepared for severe weather like hurricanes. Reassuringly, citizens can also be certain that even in the event of fire and brimstone, the government has plans set in place, at least in Virginia.

“Virginia emergency managers are in close contact with the National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Center, and others to closely monitor the development of storms long before they threaten the United States,” said Jeff Caldwell, Director of External Affairs at the VDEM.  “We use the latest weather forecasting and scientific data to develop emergency response plans throughout the year.”

The department relies on satellite imagery, aircraft observations from the Air Force Reserve, and track/intensity forecast models that provide information about the direction and strength of each individual storm. In the event of a major hurricane, the department sets in motion the process of declaring a statewide, official state of emergency.

“When storm track appears to narrow in on Virginia, VDEM works with the Governor’s Office to consider what resources might be necessary to combat the storm and address its impacts,” said Caldwell. “A state of emergency is a tool that allows Virginia to mobilize National Guard and state assets in advance of a storm impacting the state.”

The VDEM works with other local, state and federal governments to provide resources such as manpower, water, vehicles and generators for those in need. During times of devastation, the department also works closely with local law enforcement.

“Emergency events are inherently a local response activity,” said Caldwell. “Law enforcement, EMS, and firefighters at the local level are the first responders that help keep Virginians safe and speed to their aid when a storm impacts citizens. Working together, VDEM can process a locality’s request for additional law enforcement help during an emergency and can help shift resources into the area.”

So what should Virginians expect during a hurricane? According to Keck, the answer is everything and anything — his philosophy is proactive preparedness.

“Richmond is significantly inland,” he said. “But there are still dangers here and throughout the state of Virginia during a hurricane. You can never be too safe.”

The Department of Emergency Management advises there are several potential catastrophes that citizens should remain cautious of during a hurricane.

“Hurricanes cause high winds, tornadoes, and landslides, but their deadliest hazard is flooding,” said Caldwell. “Tropical storms and depressions can be just as dangerous. These threats are not just for coastal regions like Hampton Roads. Some of Virginia’s deadliest storms have struck inland and even in the western portion of Virginia. Inland flooding can be devastating and deadly.”

Hurrican Irma. Photo by FEMA

Most experts and officials recommend three steps for remaining safe during a hurricane — making a plan, assembling an emergency kit and staying informed.

“Disaster kits include food, water, and medications — for you, your family and your pets,”

Jonathan Mcnamara, the communications director of the Richmond Red Cross, said. “Also include any important documents, such as your passport, deed or titles — things you might need if you get separated from your home.”

Making these disaster kits is especially crucial in light of the devastation Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico have endured this hurricane season. In Puerto Rico alone, entire communities were swept away in the storm and 70 percent of the island still remains without power.

Making a plan for what you should do if you get separated from your family, sustain an injury during a disaster, or have to evacuate the area is also important. Evacuation is a major safety routine during hurricanes – it is essential to know where you need to go.

“Interstate 64 is the evacuation route nearest to Richmond,” Keck said. “You need to evacuate as soon as possible, or you’ll be sitting in traffic when the hurricane hits.”

To learn how to make an emergency preparedness kit,  check out the video from the American Red Cross below: 

*Video courtesy of Red Cross 

Nidhi Sharma

Nidhi Sharma

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