Monday, September 30, 2013

Could this be the worst hurricane season on record?

You feel that? It's getting a little chilly outside, especially if you're in the northeast. The leaves are just beginning to change and it's officially fall. As people put their thoughts of a possible Indian summer to bed and takeout their jackets and boots, they also generally think that they've dodged a bullet when it comes to Hurricane season.

Now you might be laughing to yourself saying that I'm a moron! Don't you remember Hurricane Sandy? How can you say that people have put those thoughts to bed when the Anniversary is right around the corner--at the END of October? And that Hurricane season doesn't end until the END of November? And you'd be right, all of those things are true save for the moron part; we still have a lot of Hurricane season to anxiously wait through and there's a lot of media reminding us of that fact:
When you read through these articles asking what's going on, you can almost sense that they're pissed, an almost "What Gives?" attitude; you promised us an above average hurricane season...remember?" 

NOAA: Atlantic hurricane season on track to be above-normal

Yet here we sit...waiting, wondering, silently cursing the powers that forecast our fate...and we do this because we can't do anything else. 

So, how can I say that this may be the worst hurricane season on record if nothing has happened yet? Well, it was a tad dramatic to say "the worst" but it's pretty bad. Remember the heeded warnings that preceded Hurricane Irene? Shutdown subways, runs on food, and people getting out of town? It was a major inconvenience, but people did it. When Irene fell short of producing forecasted impacts, people felt lied to and the city took a hit financially from cancelled events and shuttered infrastructure. From a preparedness perspective it was a huge win though, the city was prepared for a potential storm and pulled through relatively unscathed. What happened though was that it eroded the confidence in the forecasting models and in the decision-makers who urged people get ready...because nothing happened.

Fast forward to Sandy coming up the eastern seaboard a year later and a similar situation unfolded. Warnings were communicated, subways were shuttered, and on the barrier islands evacuation notices were issued. However, because people felt burned by the false alarm that was Irene, those warnings fell on deaf ears--a, 'fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me' mentality.

So in saying that this is potentially the "worst" hurricane season on record is due to the potentially damaging ramifications from a psychological perspective. People have short memories when it comes to disasters, a sort of disaster amnesia. Right now hurricane season has the attention of many more people than it would otherwise, with the proverbial preparedness pump primed for people to exercise plans made in preparation of, or in response to Sandy. If nothing happens this season, that would be fantastic, but I believe that the amnesia will begin to set in and the focus on individual, family, and small business preparedness will fade into the ether--which is not so fantastic.

Getting people to take notice of preparedness activities and integrate them into their lives is one of the greatest challenges we face as practitioners. It's unfortunate that it takes an event where loss of life and property occur for people to take notice and more importantly, take action. It's an even more unfortunate that the action it fuels is so short-lived. Without a constant reminder of why being prepared is so important, people forget, because it's easier and less overwhelming to let it slip away than to remain vigilant.

For those who are still in the process of recovery in the mid-Atlantic region, Sandy is not a distant memory but an everyday reality. The luxury of letting what happened slip away is not a possibility, so while the limited physical impacts of a quiet hurricane season are wonderful, the psychological toll it takes on how people view preparedness can make the quiet years some of the most damaging.  

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