The five costliest hurricanes in the U.S. all occurred within the past 14 years, with a total cost of almost $500 billion. That’s right—billion, with a b.
In 2017 alone, hurricane damage was estimated to be about $265 billion, breaking the previous record held from 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Year after year, the country is held captive as it witnesses images and videos of powerful winds ripping roofs off houses in Puerto Rico, powerlines snapping like twigs in Florida and unprecedented rains flooding roads and houses in Texas within mere hours.
As more and more people are moving to the coast and hurricane-heavy states like Florida and Texas, more and more people are putting themselves – and their property – into the direct path of hurricanes. For government agencies located anywhere in these hurricane-prone areas (also including Louisiana and the Carolinas, New York City and Long Island too, courtesy of Sandy), this means they must be at the ready. This is particularly critical from June through November, when a potential hurricane is more likely to blow full-force toward your community.
Local government agencies must prepare both their infrastructure and their citizens in the event of anything from a major Category 5 hurricane all the way down to a tropical storm, because even those can cause serious damage. Here are some ways local agencies can best prepare their cities and citizens so when the next hurricane comes barreling through town, they’ll be prepared.
Evaluate risk beforehand – Local agencies need to prepare their infrastructure before a disaster strikes and strengthen the assets that are most vulnerable to damage. To mitigate the risk of flooding, agencies should install stormwater pumps, build seawalls and levees and upgrade sewage systems. Agencies should cut back tree limbs to reduce the risk of limbs falling on powerlines. By utilizing an enterprise asset management solution that helps to identify and proactively maintain infrastructure needs beforehand – such as roadways, bridges, powerlines and storm drains – agencies can substantially reduce recovery costs once the hurricane is over.
Ensure a system that can handle the surge in 911 emergency calls – During Hurricane Sandy, emergency agencies were receiving almost as many calls in one hour as they normally did in an entire day. A potential solution for overloaded phone lines during hurricanes could be an online 911 system. Charleston County, South Carolina implemented an online 911 system, which at the time was the only one of its kind in the entire country. This online 911 system enables people to report an emergency online when they cannot call, get through to dispatch or send a text to 911.
Create a social media and digital plan – Social media and digital community platforms can be powerful communication tools during a hurricane. When electricity goes out, people lose access to news updates on TV but can turn to social media in order to get information about what’s going on outside. Local government agencies should lean heavily on using social media when pushing out the most up-to-date information to their citizens while also correcting misinformation quickly. Sending out text updates to citizens is another convenient way to push relevant data directly into the hands of citizens.
Establish coordination with surrounding agencies and the next “highest” agency – All the surrounding agencies should be on the same page when it comes to allocation of resources, social media policy, action during the storm and subsequent recovery efforts. A CAD-to-CAD solution can aid in this process. Once the hurricane is over, evacuees re-entering potentially dangerous areas will need to be directed by emergency response teams. For example, contaminated floodwaters and power outages all pose a risk beyond specific boundaries or jurisdictions and will need to be addressed as quickly as possible through multiagency communication. Agencies should also ensure coordination with their next highest agency – if you’re a city, have coordination plans set in place with your county; at the state level, be coordinating with FEMA before the storm hits.
Hurricanes can be costly, life-threatening events. Until one makes landfall, however, it’s difficult to know just how much damage one can inflict. But with proper planning and preparation, local government agencies are better positioned to mitigate potential risks and ensure the safety of their citizens and communities.