Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tropical Storm Karen

Tropical Storm Karen is roughly 200 miles off the Gulf Coast and is forecast to make landfall in the next 24-48 hours. Governor's of Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi have already declared state's of emergency to facilitate the movement of personnel and physical assets, and have strongly encouraged that families along the gulf coast be prepared.

Anticipated Rainfall                                                                                     Anticipated Path
The Mayor of Grand Isle, LA has issued a mandatory evacuation order and evacuation orders have been issued for Lafourche Parish, much of Plaquemines Parish, and parts of southeast New Orleans, were told to be out of their homes before nightfall.

Here is a clip of Thursday's White House daily briefing where Spokesman Jay Carney said that FEMA is recalling personnel in preparation for the storm so that a response can be launched should the situation call for it.

The current forecast has Karen spinning with sustained winds of 45-50mph and dropping between 4-6" of rain. Localized flooding fueled by a 3-5' storm surge is anticipated in low-lying areas but this is nothing that the Gulf Coast and its residents haven't dealt with before.

As someone who advocates for a greater emphasis be put on preparedness, I'm happy to see that State's and municipalities are taking the threat of this storm seriously; however, given Karen's waning strength, the recall of FEMA personnel, and the mandatory evacuations, the general attention surrounding the storm seems incongruous with its forecasted impacts.

I imagine that one of the hardest things to balance in the position of an emergency manager or other position with decision-making authority, is knowing when to hit the panic button with enough time so that people can evacuate vs. when to lay back and play it conservatively. There are costs associated with declaring state's of emergency, for activating auxiliary personnel and pre-staging assets, and when budgets are already tight, incurring un-budgeted incremental costs can be tough to swallow. Then you have to factor in the gamble you're taking with the trust of the public, and as we've seen in the Mid-Atlantic region with Irene and Sandy, trust is difficult to create and harder to maintain if there are false alarms.

So, for the sake of the communities in Karen's path, I hope the massive mobilization of assets is not needed, I also hope that the public who evacuate and others who take prudent steps to protect life and property are forgiving if the impacts of Karen aren't as severe as originally forecast.

Good luck Gulf Coast, we're all watching and waiting along with you.

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