As my former boss at the Federal Emergency Management Agency used to say, the beginning of college football season brings the "real" start of the Atlantic hurricane season. The National Weather Service tells us that the annual hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, but those in the emergency management profession are well aware that August, September and October usually bring the most dangerous storms towards our shores.
Although we seem to have avoided the worst of Hurricane Dorian’s wrath — unlike the Bahamas, where at least 30 persons have been killed and over 13,000 homes were destroyed — the storm’s impacts in North Carolina clearly demonstrate that Dorian was one of the most powerful and destructive hurricanes that we have ever experienced. Moreover, since August 24, when Dorian reached tropical storm strength, this storm has severely tested both the nation’s hurricane forecasting capabilities and our disaster response infrastructure.
On the positive side, despite the uncertainties about where the storm might make landfall on the continental U.S., millions of citizens in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina took appropriate, early action to evacuate their homes and seek shelter. For several days, it was well within the realm of possibility that Dorian would strike the east coast of Florida as a major hurricane, causing significant destruction of property and threating the lives of any residents who remained behind. When one weighs the relatively small inconvenience of evacuating for 48 hours versus risking the lives of yourself and your loved ones, the decision to evacuate should be an easy one. It is apparent that the lessons of Katrina, Harvey, Irma, Maria, and countless other storms have made a lasting impact on the behavior of individual citizens; we are taking responsibility for our own safety, and ensuring that we act appropriately in the face of real threats. This is an achievement that we can be proud of as a nation, and it will save many lives in the years to come.
With respect to the emergency management professionals, we can and will do better to help individual citizens protect themselves. Through continuing research and analysis, we at CNA are working to refine preparedness and response operations in three important ways. We are helping governments to identify the most vulnerable populations, and working to reduce their vulnerability. We are finding ways to access, analyze and display the information that is most useful to the government and the public to help them make key decisions. And we are forecasting the response problems that are "around the corner," and testing our hypotheses by examining the successes and areas for improvement in prior response operations.
As the 2019 hurricane season continues, we will watch more storms develop off the coast of Africa and will exercise our ever-improving ability to forecast their path, strength and potential impacts. With sustained and enhanced cooperation between government officials, the private sector, voluntary agencies and the public, we can continue to reduce suffering and better protect the nation from these inevitable events.