How to Survive a Hurricane: The Lessons We Should Have Learned From Katrina
I’ve never seen such widespread damage and so many Americans suffering from direct hits, and these hurricanes really hit home the need to have a coordinated plan to deal with the three phases of any disaster: Preparation, Response, and Recovery.
Each part of the process can be broken down to individual and government responsibilities. No part can stand alone, and no part can succeed without both the individual and the government working together.
These days, we should be much better prepared for a hurricane than we were a dozen years ago when Katrina hit New Orleans. There was no precedent for Katrina, so Katrina became the precedent and was the starting point for how to deal with future disasters. Hurricane tracking and predictions have improved tremendously since then, and social media has made it easier to keep up with official news and to keep in touch with family and friends.
A culture of preparedness should be baked in to our everyday lives — and at the first sign of a hurricane coming your way, think of yourself as a first-responder. It is your responsibility do the following:
1. Make sure all your important papers are in a waterproof, easy-to-carry box or folder: passport, insurance documents, birth certificate, bank account details, mortgage, etc. If you have to leave home or if your home is damaged, you will need these documents. In addition, back them up on a thumb drive or on the cloud. They will do you no good if you don’t have access to them!
2. Prepare a “go kit” that includes three to five days of essential supplies, such as nonperishable food, water, medications, and diapers. Freeze several large bottles of water that you can grab when you leave your home.
3. Plan an escape route. Know how you’ll leave and have an idea of where you’re going, whether it’s to a shelter or a relative’s house.
4. Take care of your pets, and have enough food for them for several days.
5. If you plan to stay in local shelter, park your car on higher ground or in a multistory parking garage.
6. Pay attention to all warnings, and evacuate when it becomes necessary to do so.
It is also the responsibility of the government (including community leaders and faith-based organizations) to prepare for disasters, but government plans are often based on the last storm — which is a stupid way to approach preparation. Every storm is different, and every plan must be tailored to the current storm.
Here’s what the federal government and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) need to do — but remember, there’s only so much they can do without local and state cooperation.
1. Pre-stock shelters with food and water, and let people know where the shelters are. One of the reasons so few people died in Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was that the people knew they had to go to concrete buildings, which were prepared to house them. It’s become routine, and people know where to go.
2. Pre-position National Guard troops where the people are and where they can do the most good. Before Harvey, the troops were in San Antonio but everyone knew the hurricane would hit Houston. As a result, it took too long for help to arrive in Houston.
3. Pre-position federal troops at federal installations near the expected areas that will be hit by the hurricane. If they’re needed, they’re right there; if they’re not needed, they can go home.