Hurricane Watch 2005
As I write my inaugural column, Florida residents are breathing a sigh of relief, having escaped the anticipated wrath of Tropical Storm Arlene.
The storm, which had developed in the Caribbean before barreling toward the Gulf Coast, had weather watchers worried, waiting to see if 60-mph winds would accelerate into a bona fide hurricane. While Arlene ultimately grew weaker before hitting the coast on June 11, heavy rain, 20-foot waves, strong winds and power outages offered an all-too-chilling reminder of the devastation that Hurricane Ivan’s 120-mph winds caused last year—including 29 deaths.
Ivan and its “siblings”—Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne—set records for federal hurricane response, caused $20 billion in property damage and generated 1.7 million insurance claims.
“The unprecedented string of hurricanes that struck the Southeast last year was part of the most active hurricane season the nation has seen in more than 100 years,” a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes. “In fact, Florida became the first state since Texas in 1886 to be struck by four hurricanes in a single year.”
Last year’s hurricanes “forced millions to evacuate, left thousands without power, many without homes and caused millions upon millions of dollars in damage,” confirms FEMA Director Michael D. Brown. “The serious level of destruction we saw come from the 2004 storms is probably the clearest signal for those in hurricane-prone states to take time now to prepare for the quickly approaching 2005 hurricane season.”
Now, here’s the really scary part: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in conjunction with the National Emergency Managers Association, conducted a survey to see how residents in hurricane-prone areas are preparing for this year’s expected storms.
Approximately 25% of those polled in 12 East and Gulf Coast states would do nothing to prepare for the next hurricane.
“After the level of devastation we witnessed last year, this is simply not acceptable,” Brown asserts.
Why do we, as “evolved” human beings, fail to learn from past experience?
It’s a critical question during hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.
“People don’t like change,” says Dwight Bain, an Orlando, Florida-based mental health counselor and crisis intervention specialist. “It’s easier for them to psychologically block out the reality of a crisis actually happening to them. That’s one of the biggest reasons behind the lack of preparation commonly seen in association with natural disasters. Thinking about the possibility of their home being damaged or destroyed is almost too traumatic for some people to consider, as they believe their home should always be the safest place.
“While it is normal to not want to think or talk about the possibility of your home being damaged in a fire, flood, tornado, hurricane, mudslide, earthquake or other form of natural disaster, it’s unrealistic,” adds Bain, author of Destination Success: A Map for Living Out Your Dreams. “The national news media run stories almost every day that show people being impacted by this type of crisis. At some point, all of us need to deal with the possibility that it might happen to us, as well.”