A Primer: Planning for a hurricane strike

At the bottom of this post is a link to a PowerPoint file that has the storm tracks to accompany this reading.

Hurricanes are a common occurrence in the Gulf and Atlantic basins.  Hurricane forecasts can provide a many day warning.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  Emergency managers face a challenge.  They need to meet the unforgiving expectations of the public they serve, and the news media that wants to sensationalize failures.  A local emergency manager who doesn’t take enough action ahead of a storm that hits the community will be tagged as incompetent; yet the same EM who mobilizes resources ahead of a storm that misses the community will be tagged as wasteful.

A good example of this is Hurricane Ike.  The forecasted track showed many possible scenarios five days out from the current day.  It started as Tropical Depression Nine on Monday, September 1, 2008.  The first few forecasts tracked the storm nearly due West toward Cuba and possibly into the Gulf of Mexico.

Wednesday, the forecast track started to swerve and it looked like it could track more North into Florida or even up the East Coast.  It is always best for a storm to make landfall late in the week when planning the mobilization of resources and public notifications.  However, this storm was different.  The timing was the worst in the week as the critical 3 days prior to landfall were over a weekend.  It is harder to contact government, non-governmental organizations, and private industry over the weekend, and even more difficult to get action taken.

Thursday evenings forecast provided some grim news.  Hurricane Ike appears that it will make landfall directly into Miami as a strong hurricane Tuesday evening.  The EM in Miami would need to start making arrangements on Friday expecting to work through the weekend.  The storm is so large that the outer rain bands would arrive Tuesday morning making travel more difficult.  Anything not in place by Monday would need to wait until after the storm passed.

Luckily for the EM in Miami, the storm’s turn to the North is shift farther West.  This means that Miami will get a glancing pass instead of a direct hit.  Imagine if the Miami EM started to mobilize expensive resources, and was calling for an evacuation of tourists.  There would be some unhappy politicians at the expenses, and businesses calling the politicians due to lost revenue.  Now the EM in Key West faces a similar problem.

Over the weekend, the track of Hurricane Ike keeps changing with a turn to the North shifting more and more West.  Alabama has a turn as the landfall location.  As does Mississippi and Louisiana.  The news on Monday morning reveals a straight shot to Galveston, TX with landfall the following weekend.  By Monday evening, the track shows landfall in Corpus Christi.

Consider that along the way, every EM of a coastal community has gone through a similar process of the Miami EM.  They had to weigh decisions on actions to take for what might occur four to five days away.  No EM wants to replay some of the catastrophes that occurred during prior seasons as the main character … or worse yet, the public scapegoat.

The track seems to be mostly consistent during Tuesday and Wednesday with a mid-Texas coast landfall on Saturday.  The storm will also speed up and move quickly across the Gulf.  It will cross the Western side of the Gulf in half the time of the Eastern side.  Note that the speed of the storm’s movement and the wind speed in the storm are two different things.  The wind speeds of the storm Tuesday evening were 80 mph, but the storm was only moving at 9 mph.  Just after landfall, the wind speed was 100 mph and the storm moved at 15 mph.

During this entire time, technology was used in many different ways.  The Weather Service was using computers to create forecast models, and then disseminate the information.  Both traditional media and social networking was pushing the information out to inform the public.  Emergency managers were using technology to plan for their response.

In this course, technology is used in the broad sense of the term.  It is any technology that is used to help make decisions, capture action, and connect.  It can be voice or data systems.  It can be stand-alone or networked.  It can be established or ad-hoc.  The key to successful integration of technology in disasters, emergencies and crisis is to think broadly and creatively on primary and alternate ways it can be used.

The needs around technology change from general hurricane planning, to the immediate planning in the days before the landfall, during the landfall when conditions are at the worst, and into the response and recover where the infrastructure may be damaged.

Hurricane Ike Track