On June 1, the hurricane season began in the Western Hemisphere. Every year, a number of named storms affect the eastern and southern coasts of the United States. My experience in public safety has taught me that there are three phases of every landfalling storm: before, during and after. I could probably write an article on each phase, but I will try to give some key points on each of these three phases.
Before the Storm
The fire service works in operational periods of time leading up to a landfalling storm. There are certain things that need to be checked in each operational period that may be needed during the storm. A few examples of the things that are checked or operated are emergency generators, station fuel levels and chain saws. I think that many people take preparatory steps before a landfalling storm, but I doubt that we take a planned approach.
The first order of business would be to determine what needs to be done before the storm arrives: things like filling gas tanks and gas cans, checking generators, stocking up on non-perishable foods and drinking water, procuring batteries for flash lights, making sure that propane tanks are full and ensuring that medical patients have what they need. It is important to heed warnings by weather and local officials prior to the storm.
The steps taken before the storm should be done while conditions are calm, the power is still on, the wind is calm and the torrential rain is not yet falling. If you think that you will need something after the storm, then you will want to acquire it before the storm. You will also need to secure loose items from being blown around.
During the Storm
Once the storm has hit, shelter in place. Most storms might contain three dangerous issues: flooding rains, damaging sustained winds and tornadoes. If you live near the coast, then you will need to be concerned about storm surges, especially around high tides. Some storms may be more of a rain event, while others may be more of a wind event, and some contain both. Listening to and heeding the warnings issued might just save your life. If you are given the order to evacuate, do so. An evacuation plan should be determined prior to the storm’s arrival. Do not go outside to look at the storm’s fury. Many have been hurt or killed by falling tree branches or trees. If power lines come down, treat them as energized. Know where you will go in your home if a tornado warning is issued. If tornadoes are forecast, then people living in mobile homes must have an evacuation location to go to.
After the Storm
The period after the storm could last for two to three weeks. Infrastructure may be damaged. How will you live if the power is off three days? How about seven or 14 days? How will you prevent your generator exhaust from building up lethal levels of carbon monoxide? Trees could be wrapped with power lines. Roads may be blocked or washed out. Do not drive through water running across a roadway. Many people are hurt using chain saws and ladders after storms. If evacuated, then stay out until conditions have been rendered safe.
Patience will be key in dealing with the aftermath of a landfalling storm. Neighbors will need to help neighbors, especially if you have elderly neighbors. Fire units, ambulances and police officers may be delayed due to blocked access or high call loads.
One may have to live without creature comforts for an extended period of time. Steps taken before the storm may benefit after the storm. I remember the days after Hurricane Isabel when one could not find a chain saw to buy for 100 miles. Looking at the storm through the lens presented here may help people better survive the storm.