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Hurricane Planning for Small- and Mid-Sized Agencies

Wed, 1 May 2013|

This training video from the Firefighters Support Foundation addresses the phases of the hurricane event and the preparatory actions that agencies should be taking during each of them.

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Transcript

[BLANK_AUDIO] A safe and successful response to a hurricane event requires planning, training, and preparation at the local level. If your jurisdiction has been impacted by a hurricane in the past. Or you're located in a possible hurricane impact area. It's important that you prepare for this type of event. Over a typical three year period in the United States, we're impacted by an average of five hurricanes in a three year period. Two of which are usually classified major. Every hurricane will impact millions of Americans over a large multi-state area. A large number of fatalities and injuries that are a result of hurricanes occur after the event happens, after the storm is over, which means they could possibly be prevented. Even areas that are well away from coastlines could be severely impacted. By destructive winds, flooding and tornadoes. Hurricanes pose the greatest threat to life and property, but tropical storms and depressions can also cause death, injury and destruction. This topic is not a theory. This is realistic and probable. You know if your community is close to a hurricane impact area, or you suffered a hurricane before. If that is the fact, then you need to prepare now. There is no excuse. We find that a lack of planning and preparation on the behalf of communities due to the expectations of state and federal resources showing up very quickly to assist you can lead to planning problems and issues. This is not always the case. State and federal assistance. Could take hours, days, and even weeks in some cases to arrive at your disaster area. Long before the arrival of the state and federal agencies, you will be the only boots on the ground of your event. It's very important to remember that all local and regional disaster plans advise us that there will be no federal assistance... Starting 72 hours or longer. There are several obvious hazards from a hurricane, and these include storm surges. A storm surge is the level of water increasing up to 20 feet high. These can span hundreds of miles in length and can travel several miles inland. Heavy rainfall. storms produce rain in an excess of six or more inches of rain, and this can result in deadly flooding, up to including flash flooding in your community. Also, inland flooding. This can take place hundreds of miles away from coastal impact areas, and this can focus on rivers, streams, and creeks also. Once recent example of this, in landlocked Vermont, there were three fatalities as a result of inland flooding. Obviously high winds can be a danger. These are tropical storm force winds that are very dangerous and destructive. Winds of 74 miles per hour can destroy buildings and other structures. This is called the Saphar Samson Hurricane Windscale. Tornadoes, hurricanes, and tropical storms, and depressions can produce tornadoes and rip currents. This is a strong wind of hurricanes creating dangerous waves that can impact your community. ANy or all of these hazards. Could impact your community at the same time as a result of a hurricane. The reason we're discussing these very obvious hazards from hurricanes or tropical storms, is they will be a very critical component to your planning and preparation effort. Now we've talked about the primary hazards that are a result of the storm. We also want to talk about the secondary hazards. Number one, long term and extensive power outages in your community. Which includes the hazard of downed power lines, can lead to lots of different issues. Contamination of water supplies, flooded sewage treatment facilities, and even dam failures can all be result. Which can lead to public health emergencies. Structural collapse and other infrastructure damage can occur. And again, the reminder that many fatalities and injuries occur after the storm has passed. As we look at the primary and secondary hazards that are a result of hurricanes, there are several different issues we can look at as a result of each one of these hazards. Number one, your power may be out for days, weeks, and even months... After the storm. You may have no cell phones, landline telephones, or any communications for a long time after the event, and even such things as dirty water and sewage spill can lead to public health emergencies in your community. With any severe weather event, a watch means weather conditions are favorable for hazardous weather to occur, including hurricanes. For hurricanes, this means hurricane conditions. Within the next 24 to 36 hours for a watch. A warning means hazardous weather is imminent. It is either occurring or about to occur. For hurricanes, a warning means that weather or hurricane conditions are expected in 24 hours or less to impact your community. There's several different types of watches and warnings, specifically related to hurricanes, that will occur within this time frame. The National Hurricane Center issues public advisories, forecast advisories, and storm probabilities. These provide detail information on the storm, impact path, and track. Your local National Weather Forecast office. Issues hurricane, local statements which gives very specific details on how the storm will impact your area. It's very important in your planning and preparation to be familiar with these different types of reports and definitio, definitions and how they will impact your planning and response efforts. More details and definitions can be find at weather dot gov. It's important that you recognize these valuable weather planning tools are available to you through the national hurricane center and the national weather service. They will help you make your critical decisions on such things as evacuations, when to close school, and when to call in extra-duty personnel. So it's important to remember that if youre community is in the likely path of a hurricane. Several days out from a possible hurricane strike, you need to start monitoring these websites, monitoring these messages, and monitoring this information. So from the public safety standpoint, during a hurricane or any type of severe weather, you probably need to start watching a little bit more than your local news forecast. Because that's not enough detailed information for you to make critical decisions. Hurricanes are categorized through category one to five. Hurricanes reaching category 3 or higher are considered major hurricanes because the potential for significant loss of life and damage. But it's very important to remember that category 1 and 2 storms are still very dangerous and require planning, preparation, and response measures. Even tropical storms can be very dangerous. One very good example is the slow moving tropical storm Allison in early 2001 in Houston, Texas. Produced over 40 inches of rain, killing 41 people and causing over $5 billion in damage. So any tropical storm, any depression, or any category hurricane can be a dangerous event. So it's important to remember, even with smaller hurricanes, you still can get flooding and death as a result of the storms... U.S. hurricane warning systems have provided adequate time now for people in coastal areas to evacuate further inland. But due to the population growth in these areas it's very difficult to evacuate these people, even with timing notification systems. Due to the fact that the infrastructure in the roads. If not kept up with the population growth. Also the majority of people who live in coastal areas have never experienced a major hurricane or hurricane impact. They have been through weaker storms which has given them the false sense of security. This can lead to delayed action by the public and them not following orders from elected officials or public officials on evacuating. What this means in any size community, you may have a certain segment of the population that does not believe they want to evacuate or that they think they need to evacuate, so you need to plan on that process of how do we handle these individuals in this community after the storm has impacted. It's important not to get a false sense of security when an evacuation order is given, as many individuals will one not want to leave, and two will refuse to leave the area. All East Coast and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas are subject to hurricanes and have been impacted before by hurricanes. Parts of the southwestern United States and Pacific Coast states. Also experienced heavy rains and flooding, that are result of hurricanes, spawned off the coast of Mexico. This is important to remember because over half of the states in the United States, have been or can be impacted by a hurricane, even in areas that maybe, have not had one happen in quite some time. The hurricane threat is a known hazard that annually we do have to plan and prepare for. Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June to November. With a peak season for mid August to mid October. The Eastern Pacific hurricane season begins May and ends in November. So again, we know this is gonna happen every year and we need to start our planning process and we can't wait 'til hurricane season starts. It's very important as a public safety official to stay informed when planning and preparing for a possible hurricane strike. It's important to start monitoring and tracking possible hurricane impacts. Up to seven to five days out if possible once notification has been given. Once you've been given notification of a possible hurricane impact, it's important to start planning in your community. Because some of these decisions are made several days out, including evacuations. Calling in additional resources. Now with hurricanes five or seven days out, we may not know a clear path or probability of impact, but it's still very important in your community to start planning and discussing as soon as possible. At this point it's very important to remember. But you need to be monitoring weather conditions, keeping an eye on the horizon, and communicating with your local and/or state emergency management officials. This is part of the emergency management process to network and bring everybody together. Communicating with your emergency management officials will give you access to timely and detailed information and developments. One of the things that state, local, regional emergency management may be doing at this point it communicating via conference calls with everyone, and sending out messages and bulletins that will provide detailed information. If you can connect with your emergency management officials, it will allow you access to this information. Local public to safety officials may not one: know that there is even an emergency management person in their area or community and two: how to reach that person. So now is the time to reach out and identify who, who your local emergency management official is. It could be at the town level, the county level, the regional level, or the state level. But now it's important to identify who that person is and how to contact them. Lots of local public safety officials may not even realize who their local emergency management official is... Are what resource, what resources this person, or agency can bring to the table. These resources can include local, state and federal resources, deployable resources, extra law enforcement officers, extra fire and rescue resources, mobile field hospitals, mobile feeding stations, aviation assets, beans, bullets. And all kinds of other resources are available, so you need to reach out to your local emergency management official and start this discussion now. If you're not constantly in contact with your emergency management officials, maybe a month or two before hurricane season begins, would be a good time to reach out to this individual and see what planning and preparation is taking place. In your community or your region. [BLANK_AUDIO] The National Weather Service coordinates a volunteer organization called Sky Warn. This is an organization of over 290,000 trained, severe weather spotters. Sky Warn's spotters provide, essential information to the National Weather Service on all types of weather hazards, including hurricanes. The primary goal is to spot, identify, and report local severe weather conditions. They have courses that are available at no cost to future Sky One members. This covers storm development, storm structures, identifying potential severe, severe weather, information reports. How to report that information, severe weather safety, etc. Training is open at no cost to local public safety personnel. Please check with your local national weather service forecast office for additional information on the Sky Warn program. The sky warning program is very important. Your public safety agency simply provides weather training to your staff at no cost. Connects you with the National Weather Service, since they provide the training. And, allows you to provide real-time, roots on the ground information to the National Weather Service during a severe weather event, like a hurricane. This may provide your volunteers or paid personnel a volunteer opportunity to help out in the community. Another way to ensure that your community is prepared is a National Weather Service program called Storm Ready. This is a nationwide no-cost program that helps. Community leaders and emergency managers strengthen your local severe weather safety programs and receive a nationally recognized certification. Storm Ready develops recognition criteria for your community based on six guidelines including communications, information reception, hydro meteorological monitoring, local warning dissemination. Community preparedness and the administrative operations. This is a certification process that your community will go through at no cost that will help you be prepared. Please check with your local National Weather Service forecast office for additional information on the Storm Ready Program. The Storm Ready Program is important to your agency since it allows you the opportunity to conduct facilitated severe weather planning with your key partnering agencies. Other public safety agencies, elected officials and others. Also, the storm-ready certification will establish that you are very serious about severe weather planning and preparation in your community. Also, it may impact your community insurance rating in a positive way. By signing up your community for the storm ready program, commits you to conducting planning and preparation for severe weather that may otherwise fall through the cracks. Sometimes this planning can be difficult due to all the different agencies and individuals that need to be involved in hurricane planning. So it's very important to network and communicate with all these agencies. In most communities, you may not even know who these agency representatives are. Now would be the time to identify these individuals and introduce yourself to them. 24 hours before hurricane landfall is not the time to try to communicate with these other critical agencies. All the different agencies involved in hurricane planning and preparedness, are focused on two key issues: life safety and incident stabilization. Planning and inter-agency cooperation are critical to having successful response to any type of critical incident, including a hurricane. The planning efforts never end for this type of event. This is an annual event, and we recognize that, and now's the time to reach out to these other agencies. In many communities it's been very difficult to conduct hurricane planning and preparedness activities in the past. But, as the impact of each storm seems to increase each year, this provides an excellent opportunity to work with your community partners in developing a hurricane response plan. Two issues that have led to the storms having more of an impact on each community is the population growth in coastal areas, and the public's growing reliance on infrastructure such as phones, internet and power. Hurricane weather has impacted every type of community out there, suburban, rural, metro and all others. Also, if you've not had a hurricane type of event in the past 30 or 40 or 50 years, does not mean that it could not happen the next hurricane season. Planning and preparation is the key to any severe weather type incident. And that includes having a clear idea of your actions, before the incident occurs. If you live in a coastal area, it is not a matter of if, but when you could have a hurricane landfall. The first step in your planning and preparation is a review of your agency's guidelines and procedure, when responding to hurricanes and other severe weather incidents, if you even have a plan to address these topics. Also, as with any other emergency management planning process,. It is a great idea to do a multi-agency exercise- either table top functional or full scale- to bring all the key agencies together and practice your plan. An exercise is a very low cost but effective tool in practicing and testing your hurricane plan. This can be done in a simple one hour tabletop exercise if that's all the resources and time that you have available to you. It's very important that your community has a hurricane specific annex in your community. All hazards, multi-hazards, or what we call a disaster plan. This is the specific annex that addresses. Hurricane planning and preparation. Typically, hurricanes plans follow a hurricane response schedule or phases. And we will discuss those phases. Each phase of the schedule allows a specific period of time, and we'll identify those measures and activities that need to take place during that phase. This hurricane response schedule, or phases, will correspond to several different things including days and hours before the estimated time of arrival of severe weather conditions in your community, your response during and after the landfall of the storm. And the termination of response operations, where you go into what's called recovery operations. These phases can follow different types of standards, so you need to check with your state and local emergency management officials to see which system that you utilize. Here are some of the examples of the phases that we were talking about. The awareness level is 72-60 hours... Prior to the arrival of high winds in your community. During this time frame, we're going to be monitoring conditions and maintaining situational awareness of a possible hurricane landfall, and making notifications to all our community partners. At this time, we're not sure of the hurricane track or path, but we can be notifying resources that we may need. To put them on standby. Standby, is 60-48 hours away from the arrival of high winds or storm surge activity. Also, the watch that we talked about, maybe issued during this time frame. We may have a better idea, if our community is going to impacted by the storm, we may be mobilizing resources at this point. Activating our community emergency operation center and taking other preparedness steps. During the response phase, at this point we have pretty good certainty that we will receive some top of impact from the hurricane land fall. 48 hours before the arrival of high winds. Is all the way through the termination of the emergency phase will be your response. These are also the same, all the activities your taking during the height of the storm. Also, the hurricane watches and warnings that we discussed will be issued within this 48-hour time frame. During the response phase, our emergency operation center is up and running. We're communicating with our partners. We may be discussing or beginning evacuation procedures. We may have resources that are stage ready to go. During all the phases we discussed, you will be communicating with the public and sharing this information with them including watches, warnings and official information that you want to share with them. Its very important that we keep the public informed. During the recovery phase, we'll begin termination of the emergency phase, and this could continue for days, weeks, and even months. At this point in time, we are trying to return the community back to normal. These were just some of the examples of the phases you can utilize in the planning process. What is important that you identify the specific phases. You're going to use in your communities planning process. It's also very important that if you're developing some type of hurricane response plan, that your plan mirrors as much as possible the other local, regional, and state plans. Some of the considerations we'll have during standby and response phase, some of the key functions we need to look at conducting will be number one... Ordering evacuations, which is a very important decision. Opening shelters or assisting evacuation from assisted living, nursing home and hospital type facilities. Restricting or limiting access to certain areas, curfews, closing schools, colleges in other locations. Also internal communications, sharing our information with our elected officials, department heads, key staff, and our emergency operations center. Also external communications, and that's going to be the media and public. If you've not already planned on how to conduct essential activities such as evacuations, sheltering, and deploying resources. It may be too late if you're waiting just 24 hours before landfall. This drives home the point that planning is as much a part of our job as doing. To assist in this critical decision of evacuations, you'll need to research your specific jurisdiction's hazards. And communicate with your local or state emergency management officials on evacuations. Also it's important to remember that all evacuations must be completed before the arrival of high winds or other dangerous hazards. This could be one of the most dramatic decisions you may have to make in your community. Wind related to hurricanes. It will be very important to communicate with your state and local emergency management officials if and when you need to make the decision to evacuate. Part of the evacuation planning process is identifying the special evacuation zones. These can follow roads, natural and manmade geographic features, population density areas, and other type of features. It's up to you to identify these as part of your planning process. The second part is to designate the evacuation route, for each one of these zones. The state may be identifying major highways and interstates as their evacuation routes and zones. You need to look at your roads and secondary roads as your evacuation routes. Part of that evacuation planning process is estimating the number of people in each zone. That will help make this critical decisions on how long, how far in advance, that you will be evacuating people. Also the evacuees will need plenty of time to take care of personal and private matters, such as securing their houses, their businesses, their property, taking care of their pets, and other items. Address specific evacuation activities such as your special needs populations, populations that rely on public transportation, your hospitals and other locations through this planning process. If you have locations such as hospitals. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other special need type locations, it's very critical and important that you reach out to those locations now and start your planning process. A lot of these type of facilities and locations are required to have some type of plan in place to evacuate. But at the end of the day, it's probably still gonna be on local government to have to try to help and evacuate these individuals. It's very important that you contact your local or regional emergency management official. As your emergency management officials may already be involved in this hurricane planning process and can provide you with a wealth of information and tools. To utilize in your planning process. There may already be a disaster plan in your community. So it's very important to 1) find out if that plan exists and 2) what information is that plan? These plans are typically referred to as an all-hazard or multi-hazard plan. Again, it's important that you reach out to your local emergency management contact because they may be the ones responsible for maintaining that plan. Also, you want your plan to mirror your regional or county emergency management plan. A hurricane is definitely a multi-agency multi-tiered response. And it will require the Incident Command System and the Multi-agency Unified Command as the organizational system that you'll need to utilize to manage any type of hurricane or other severe weather incident. ICS will need to be identified in your plans as the management system you are going to utilize during one of these responses. If you live in a possible hurricane impact zone, one of the easiest and simplest steps you can take is to conduct ICS training at your local level. Because ICS will be a valuable tool in planning and managing the hurricane response. Another important step that you can take in your community is to conduct exercises. Table tops, functional drills, and full scale drills. To test your communities response plan. Again this is a very easy and simple process. Easy, simple steps that you can take is to conduct some type of exercise. Many officials are under the impression that exercises are lengthy, expensive, and very difficult to conduct. These exercises can be done as simple as one or two hours, with a few key officials. Also, a lot of the officials that are identified in your crisis plans may not even know that they're involved in the hurricane response. So conducting these exercises will bring in elected officials. Other agencies. And let them know what their roles and responsibilities are during a hurricane response or any other critical incident. There is specific severe weather and hurricane training available to communities of all different sizes. This training is typically available through your local state or even the federal emergency management agency. Now some of the training may last for days, some of the training may last a few hours. It's up to your agency and jurisdiction to decide what's the best use of your resources and this training. But, this is something you need to research and look in to what options are available in your area and your state. With any disaster plan, you need to have short, clear plans to mobilize the right resources, the right personnel, rapidly using the incident command system. You then need to identify other plans for specific contingencies that are either worst case. Our reasonably likely. This would include your hurricane annex. Avoid very cumbersome generic plans that tend to bog down and be the dust collector in your office. These plans also need to include two types of communications. Internal communications that's communication with the other agencies in your emergency operations center. And external communications and that's communicating with the public and the media. Within your community, in conjunction with emergency management you need to designate and train a crisis team. This is the team or the group that's going to be putting together your crisis plan. And a plan is only as good as the team. That implements it. Research show us that 8 out of 10 CEOs of large corporations rely on their crisis teams more than their crisis plans. So, when we have a crisis team, we need to drill your team. And we've discussed this. You need to conduct exercises. And training for your crisis teams. The most important point to remember is the trained and experienced crisis team, works better than the best writ-, written plans for any type of high impact, or disaster type of event. It's important that we have a plan, and the team will get it's experience from developing, building, and testing that plan. But a good team will take you through any disaster. In closing, it's very important to remember our phases of the hurricane response. The first phase not identified on the chart is the planning phase. We begin this phase way before the hurricane ever makes landfall. We can start that planning phase today. This is where we're working with our partnering agencies. And our community agencies on how to plan for the response. The next phase is the awareness phase where we're 72 - 60 hours out from landfall. At this point, we're monitoring the storm making the appropriate notifications and communicating with key personnel. The next phase is the stand-by phase. Now we're looking at 60 - 48 hours until landfall. At this point, we're activating our emergency operations center. We're notifying the proper agencies and resources, and we're starting to communicate with the public. Now we're to the most critical phase, the response phase. This is occurring 48 hours out until landfall. During the response phase, we're going to have a full blown, emergency operation center activation. We're going to be deploying and staging resources and man power. Opening shelters for the community and ordering evacuations. Final, but last, is the recovery operation, or recovery phase. We're gonna start beginning clean up and recovery operations as soon as possible, getting the roads open, schools back open,. Trying to return our community to normal as soon as possible.

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