Let’s face it: No one wants to think or talk about disasters. Our minds are wired to favor “happy thoughts,” and the prospect of losing a loved one or sustaining an injury is overwhelming. Human beings, by nature, have a built-in psychological protective mechanism: denial. We figure, “Hey, if I don’t think about it, nothing bad will happen to me.”
Florida residents have learned the hard way that denial invites property damage, pain and suffering, and fatalities. They endured four hurricanes last year, which caused almost $50 billion in damage. This year alone, they’ve weathered 11 storms—and it took this double-digit onslaught to convince many Floridians to purchase disaster kits to protect their families, shore up their homes to brave heavy winds, and make a commitment to preplanning and preparation.
Today, Hurricane Katrina is wreaking havoc in South Florida, with winds that exceed 100 mph. At press time, seven people have died (most struck by falling trees), electricity is out, streets and homes are flooded, and trees are snapping like twigs. At least one tornado formed, which damaged an airplane hangar and a few homes. Some counties, according to the Associated Press, have received up to 15 inches of rain.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has issued the following statement to Florida residents: “We encourage people to take this storm’s approach very seriously and pay careful attention, following local emergency recommendations and evacuation orders. Make appropriate preparations to ensure the safety of your family and property.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted on Aug. 2 that there will be 11 to 14 more tropical storms between August and November (peak season)—and seven to nine of them are likely to become full-blown hurricanes; three to five will be major (see graphic, above).
“The tropics are only going to get busier as we enter the peak of the season,” says Brigadier General David L. Johnson, who directs the National Weather Service. “This may well be one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record and will be the ninth above-normal Atlantic hurricane season in the last 11 years.”
“Although we have already seen a record-setting seven tropical storms during June and July, much of the season’s activity is still to come,” adds Gerry Bell, lead meteorologist for NOAA’s Atlantic Hurricane Seasonal Outlook. “Warmer-than-normal sea-surface temperatures and low wind shear are among the culprits behind these stronger and more numerous storms.”
Even more worrisome, NOAA researchers foresee “a continuation of above-normal seasons for another decade or perhaps longer.”
The key to surviving any disaster—from hurricanes and tornadoes to earthquakes and wildfires—is preparation. Make sure your family has an appropriate disaster kit, as well as a well-coordinated emergency plan and communication plan that teach both adults and children what to do when a disaster strikes. Your safety depends on it.