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Date of Issue: March 31, 2005

'Be ready' watchwords from national hurricane conference

The 27th Annual "Nation's forum for Education and Professional Training in Hurricane preparedness" was held in New Orleans March 21-25. Thanks to our four big winds last year, men and women involved in Florida emergency management had many stories to tell the rest of the country - stories about their successes and failures with how they prepared for the storms, what they did to weather it, and how they are still handling the cleaning up after.

Because one of my liaison responsibilities in Holmes Beach as a city commissioner has me sitting on the Island Emergency Operations Center team, I attended the conference. While emergency management staff does most of the work during such disasters - including others such as floods, tornadoes and terrorist carryings-on - elected officials are the ones that must make decisions on things like when to order evacuations.

Among the seminars at the conference were:

  • Applying the confusing National Flood Insurance 50-percent rule that requires structures that have been destroyed more than 50 percent to be built back to current code.
  • Discussion on how animals were handled during the 2004 storms and the importance of locals knowing how to handle them.
  • How to handle disabled and elderly people better than they were in 2004.
  • 2004 post-storm assessments of hurricane products.
  • Mitigation success stories proving what works.
  • Lessons learned from mass care response during the four hurricanes.
  • Managing re-entry problems.
  • Managing disaster grants in tight budget years.

At the general session, we heard a good overview of the 2004 hurricane season, what Federal Emergency Management Agency officials learned from their response to the season, details of all four Florida hurricanes from emergency people directly involved in each of them, and the way those storms involved the largest mass care response in American history - a response that still goes on.

The conference closed with a talk by Dr. William Gray, the man from Colorado who predicts windy weather every year. For this coming season, he says we can expect 11 named storms - six hurricanes and three intense hurricanes. United States landfall probabilities for a major Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane average for the past century was 52 percent, but he says it will be 69 percent in 2005. The East Coast and Florida peninsula can expect 49 percent, versus 31 percent of average; Gulfcoast Texas to Florida Panhandle forecast is 39 percent versus 30 percent on an average year.

At last year's conference, he predicted, "We're overdue for a major hurricane strike in the United States."

For what it's worth, here's the final official score for 2004:

  • One in five Florida homes were impacted.
  • A total of 117 Floridians lost their lives.
  • 3,000 people were killed in Haiti due to storms.
  • 90 percent of the homes in Granada were damaged or destroyed.
  • Total property losses were estimated at $42 billion.

The biggest lesson learned? Preparedness, and making sure residents are told exactly what preparedness means.