HurricaneRx is a consulting firm in St Petersburg, Florida specializing in hurricane preparedness and emergency management planning, training, and exercises for hospitals, healthcare facilities, colleges/universities, and other public and private sector organizations. The space below contains our most recent blog posts. Use the subscription button to the right to receive our latest posts via email, and use the links above to navigate the rest of the site for more information about our services.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Emergency Management 101: Emergency Declarations, Evacuation Orders, and Curfews

In this video, I discuss the process involved in making political decisions such as declaring a state of emergency and issuing evacuation orders. Such decisions are often the responsibility of a county's Executive Policy Group (sometimes called an Emergency Policy Group), or EPG.


Friday, November 19, 2010

University of South Florida Launches New Undergraduate Minor and Certificate

The University of South Florida's School of Public Health recently announced plans to offer a new undergraduate minor and certificate program in Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Classes start in the Spring of 2011.
Click here to download the program flyer.

Emergency Management 101: The Role of Emergency Management in Local Government

In my last post in the Emergency Management 101 video series, I talked about the four phases of emergency management. In this segment I get into more detail about what Emergency Management actually does on a day to day basis:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hurricane 101, Part II: Hide from the Wind

In my last post, I talked about the importance of hurricane evacuation zones, storm surge, and running from the water. Today, we're going to talk about the second rule of hurricane survival, hide from the wind.

As I demonstrated in my last post, buildings are simply not designed to withstand the hydraulic forces associated with storm surge and the tremendous weight of water associated with surge and wind driven waves. Most well-built structures can, however, withstand hurricane force winds.

"If you live in a well-built home that is not located in a storm surge area, often the best thing you can do is stay home and shelter in place."

Shadow evacuations are a major
cause of traffic jams
during a hurricane evacuation.
If you live in a well-built home that is not located in a storm surge area, often the best thing you can do is stay home and shelter in place. Emergency managers refer to people who evacuate when they don't need to as shadow evacuees, and shadow evacuations are one of the primary causes of the traffic jams we've all seen on TV preceding a hurricane.

In most hurricane prone areas, 20 to 40% of the population lives in an evacuation zone. Many of these areas can successfully move 20 to 40% of their population using their existing transportation infrastructure. After all, they do it every day at rush hour! But when you add in a shadow evacuation, the result is a dangerous gridlock.

If you do shelter in place during a hurricane, you should take some steps to protect your home beforehand and ensure it is safe for you and your family. These steps include:

  • Have your home inspected. In particular, you want to ensure your home is structurally sound, and your roof meets acceptable standards for uplift resistance. In many cases, there are mitigation steps you can take to strengthen your home's structure and roof. Check with your local building officials.
  • Secure any potential wind-borne projectiles. Things like lawn furniture, lumber, and barbeque grills can become deadly missiles in extremely high winds.
  • Protect the exterior openings of your home. Your windows and exterior doors need to be covered with a protective material that meets acceptable standards for positive and negative wind load and impact resistance. Note that some so-called "hurricane windows" may not meet the impact resistance standard.
  • Protect your garage door. I list this separately because your garage door is your main vulnerability and one of the most overlooked protective actions when it comes to wind damage. 

You may be wondering:

Why is covering my windows and doors so important?

If the exterior 'shell' of your home is penetrated, this results in increased atmospheric pressure inside the structure. This, combined with the uplift created by the high winds, often results in your home's roof literally popping off and being ripped off by the wind. And once the roof goes, the walls no longer have structural stability and a total collapse of the structure is possible.

What should I use to cover my windows and doors?

There is a wide variety of materials available ranging from plywood (cheap but heavy, difficult and dangerous to install, and hard to store and reuse) to custom fabric vinyl, metal, and fiberglass shutters that you can install yourself or have installed by a reputable company. 

Wouldn't we be better off just leaving, even if we're not in an evacuation zone?

Not necessarily. The National Hurricane Center has made great strides over the past decade in forecasting the track of storms. But even with the best science has to offer, at 24 hours out (when evacuation decisions must be made by your local government), the best "cone of uncertainty" the National Hurricane Center can offer is plus or minus eighty miles. 

Often, shadow evacuees leave their home unnecessarily, only to find themselves in the path of the storm the following day. Such was the case for many evacuees from the Tampa Bay area who fled to Orlando in 2004, only to have Hurricane Charley turn and race through the center of the state.

I want to stress that if you don't feel safe in your home, you should certainly plan on leaving. But take the time to educate yourself on your evacuation zone and wind vulnerability, and take some steps to protect your home. In some cases, your home may just be the safest place to be!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Emergency Management 101: The Four Phases of Emergency Management

In my Emergency Management 101 series, I want to introduce you to some basic concepts and principles associated with Emergency Management to help you better understand your local government's role in disaster preparedness and response.

The following video was shot at a conference where I spoke at St. Petersburg College, and discusses the Four Phases of Emergency Management:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hurricane 101, Part I: Run from the Water

In this series of posts, I want to share some simple advice and point out some free online training to help you prepare your home or business for a disaster.

First, the simple advice. There are two simple rules to follow to minimize the impact of a hurricane on your home or business:

1. Run from the water
2. Hide from the wind

Part I: How to Run from the Water

If your home or business is located in a hurricane evacuation zone, that means you are close enough to sea level that the storm surge from a hurricane or tropical storm is likely to inundate your home or business with sea water.

"Staying in a structure located in a storm surge zone during a predicted storm surge is foolish and dangerous, and puts you and your family in unnecessary danger."

This is extremely serious and it is critical for you to know if you are in a hurricane evacuation zone (and if so, which one). Storm surge is deadly, and is by far the number one cause of death related to hurricanes. To see why, check out this simulation put together by the National Weather Service:

One cubic yard of water weighs 1,700 lbs!
Storm surge is not a "tidal wave". Rather, it's a gradual increase in sea level caused by both the decrease in atmospheric pressure associated with the hurricane, and the effect of the hurricane's onshore winds pushing water ahead of it. The effect is "sheets" of water that rise with each new wave. On top of the storm surge, you get massive wind driven waves.

One cubic yard of water weighs approximately 1,700 pounds. We've all felt this when we've been to the beach and been knocked over by a three foot wave while standing in the surf. Imagine what a 20 foot wall of water could do to you and your home or business!

For a first hand look at what it would be like to be in your home or business during a hurricane's storm surge, check out this AP video from Havana Cuba shot during Hurricane Ike in 2008:

If you live in a hurricane evacuation (aka storm surge) zone, and you are ordered to evacuate by your local government, the decision is simple: LEAVE*. Staying in a structure located in a storm surge zone during a predicted storm surge is foolish and dangerous, and puts you and your family in unnecessary danger.

(*To find out whether you are in a hurricane evacuation zone, Google "Your County + Hurricane Evacuation Zone Lookup". Most coastal counties in the United States maintain a website where you can enter your address and get your evacuation zone information. If you can't find it online, call your county's Emergency Management office or leave a comment below and I'll find out for you!)

But if you have to evacuate, where should you go? And what should you do to keep your family safe once you get there? Stay tuned for the next post in this series titled How to Hide From the Wind.

(Subscribe to my blog to get it delivered right to your inbox!)