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Most people do not prepare for hurricanes

BY PJ HELLER | TALLAHASSEE, FL | July 24, 2001


"Every person should take every hurricane season seriously, but we're watching a catastrophe waiting to happen."

—Stanley Goldberg


Despite dire warnings of increased hurricane activity in the Atlantic which could last for decades -- and fears of a catastrophic storm hitting the United States --

emergency management officials say the predictions are hard to

quantify.

"We obviously look at the studies. We read them. We attend

conferences with the meteorologists who put these things together. But to be really honest with you, it really doesn't matter," said Jim Loftus, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

The reason, he says, is simply because no one knows how many of those storms will turn north and head harmlessly out to sea -- or whether one might take direct aim at the state.

"We can't control the number of hurricanes, obviously," Loftus said.

"So all we can do is to try to be ready.

"We practice and exercise and coordinate with all the state agencies on how we would respond to the consequences of a hurricane," he said.

"Then we just try to get a message out that Florida will never be as prepared as it can be for a hurricane until every resident in Florida takes some personal responsibility and develops their own hurricane plan and knows what they would do in the event of a hurricane."

Unfortunately, that isn't likely to happen any time soon, Loftus predicted.

"I would like to say that we would get there and would have 100

percent compliance, but we can't mandate it by law and we can't

legislate it," he noted. "All we can do is try to spread the message every chance we get. . . But trying to get people to change their behavior is difficult."

Loftus' comments came just days before the most intense part of the hurricane season was set to begin on Aug. 1. Hurricane season begins June 1 and runs to Nov. 30.

Hurricane forecaster William Gray of Colorado State University, has predicted a more intense storm season this year with 12 named storms, seven hurricanes and three intense hurricanes of Category 3 or greater on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Gray also said there was a 69 percent chance of one or more major hurricanes making landfall along the U.S. coast this season (compared to 52 percent for the past century). There is a 50 percent chance that landfall would be along the East Coast and the Florida peninsula and a 39 percent chance of landfall along the Gulf Coast, he predicted.

Gray's storm predictions were revised upwards from earlier estimates because of what he said was a normal and periodic change in weather patterns.

Gray, along with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), warned earlier this month that those climate changes -- notably an increase in sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Basin and a decrease in wind shear -- could signal two, three or more decades of intense hurricane activity.

"Every person should take every hurricane season seriously, but we're watching a catastrophe waiting to happen," said Stanley Goldberg, a research meteorologist with NOAA's Hurricane Research Division. "With the increased number (of hurricanes), if it starts pounding the U.S., as we feel like it is going to happen, there's bound to be a major city impacted and we could be talking about a real disaster of epic proportions on our hands."

Goldberg said an increase in hurricane activity was noticed in the mid-1990s, with a doubling of hurricanes spawned in the Atlantic basin. Scientists said that a more active hurricane season doesn't necessarily mean more storms will make landfall.

While the NOAA report made waves, a storm of another kind was brewing over a letter employees in the Hurricane Research Division sent to Congress seeking at least another $1.5 million in funding this year.

They said their $2.5 million annual budget has not been increased since 1982.

Residents who have gone through a hurricane like Andrew in 1992 probably are more prepared, Loftus said. But an influx of people into the state who have never been through a hurricane means that many are not going to be ready when the storm hits.

"If you've never experienced something (like a hurricane), you don't know what kind of devastation it can cause," Loftus explained. "If your car has three bald tires and a half a tank of gas and you're going to get on the highway and not know where you're going, that's not a good thing."

An American Red Cross survey reported that about 60 percent of

residents at risk from hurricanes were concerned that they and their families were at risk. However, only half of those surveyed had a disaster supply kit or had worked up an evacuation plan.

Loftus said Florida officials, when asked about what the state is

doing to prepare for hurricane season, are turning the question

around and asking what residents are doing to prepare.

"We need all the help we can get for people to understand that

there's personal responsibility that comes with living in Florida and paying attention to major weather events," he said. "The more responsibility people take the better off efforts will be to respond to consequences and then provide relief. Obviously it helps reduce the costs, which are getting astronomical."

Officials say those costs could hit $50 billion if a major hurricane

slams into a major U.S. city. Hundreds or thousands of people could be killed, they said.

Information about hurricane preparedness is available on numerous web sites, including the one from the Florida Division of Emergency Management. The site even allows residents to type in their Zip codes to find out if they live near a storm surge area.

Another site on hurricane preparedness for residents in Louisiana is TRAC. The organization, which serves Terrebonne, Lafourche and Grand Isle, was created in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. TRAC's focus is disaster recovery, preparedness education, advocacy and mitigation.


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Related Links:

Florida Division of Emergency Management

Florida Interfaiths Active in Disasters

TRAC

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