Transcript of Get Ready Report Podcast, episode 30

How to prepare for a hurricane

This is the American Public Health Association’s Get Ready Report, coming to you from Washington, D.C. Today’s episode, entitled “How to prepare for a hurricane,” interviews James Franklin, branch chief, and Dennis Feltgen, public affairs officer, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center. (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/) They are interviewed by Dan Greenberg, APHA communications specialist.

National Hurricane Preparedness Week runs from May 26 to June 1. What are key things people must do to get ready for hurricane hazards?

Franklin: The first thing is to understand what the hurricane hazards are. The three primary ones, of course, are the strong winds, storm surge and inland flooding. Those are the three basic hazards and people need to know what those hazards can do. And then know which of those hazards that you’re particularly vulnerable to where you live.

The second thing really is to become familiar with (the) National Weather Service’s hurricane products, both the ones issued by the National Hurricane Center and the local products that come out of the National Weather Service forecast offices. They have different functions. We look at the big picture about where the storm will go, how strong it’s going to be, how big it’s going to be — and then the local offices provide more detail on impacts at the local level.

It’s also really important that you understand the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning. Those are calls to action with different meanings.

On an individual level, develop a plan for your family. Every family should have a hurricane plan. If you know you’re vulnerable to a storm surge and know that you might have to evacuate, know ahead of time where you’re going to go. Don’t wait until the hurricane warning comes up to figure out where you’re going to go if you have to evacuate. That’s something that you really need to plan ahead of time. Have materials on hand to protect your home, regardless of whether you’re going to stay or go. And, of course, the hurricane supplies: the food, water, medicines for several days.

We have an excellent website, www.hurricanes.gov/prepare, that has all kinds of information on those details. But it all starts with knowing what the hazards are and knowing what your vulnerabilities are.

That’s interesting, that you’re talking about those who are vulnerable to storm surges. We’re interested in knowing which Americans are at risk this hurricane season.

Franklin: Basically, anyone along the coast from Texas to Maine. Every state has historically been struck by a tropical cyclone, if you look back in the records. And it’s not a purely coastal threat, either. We saw in the case of Hurricane Sandy that it produced tropical storm wind gusts all the way to Wisconsin. Now, that’s certainly not going to happen all the time, but these storms do move inland, and some of the inland threats in terms of flooding particularly can affect people well away from the coast. So the entire East Coast, and inland as well. Everybody there needs to know what’s going on with hurricanes once we get into the season.

It’s interesting that you bring up Hurricane Sandy. During that superstorm, people in affected areas couldn’t make phone calls or send text messages. How can families and communities communicate with each other during a hurricane?

Franklin: Well, the first thing you want to do is stay off the landline phones, that’s for sure. The biggest problem that you’re going to have during a hurricane is power failure. So people don’t realize that when they have those walk-around telephones in their house and the power goes out, those phones are useless. So it’s always good to have an old-fashioned, plug-in, non-electrical phone in the house. I’ve got one in my house at my wife’s beckoning, and she’s absolutely right about that.

And another thing is that we’re very, very dependent on cellphones. But the other thing about that is when the power goes out, how are you going to recharge your cellphones? You have to make sure that you have a battery-powered backup cellphone charger. And the problem that a lot of people have with cellphones is that phone calls do use significant bandwidth. But when you send a text message, it uses much smaller bandwidth. So text messaging may be the way to go with communicating with each other.

That’s really interesting, and shows how important mobile communication has gotten. According to Ready.gov, actually, the Internet is the third most popular way for Americans to gather information for upcoming emergencies. How can we as Americans use social media to prepare for a hurricane?

Feltgen: Well, social media is just another tool in the toolbox. It’s a great way, as we’ve already discussed, to communicate with each other, but again, it’s not going to be a stand-alone thing. The Internet itself has some very great websites that have preparedness tips that you need to be reading and using before the hurricane season. The two best that I know of are, of course, the National Hurricanes website — that’s www.hurricanes.gov — and www.hurricanes.gov/prepare. And also FEMA’s website, which is www.ready.gov. Both of those have incredibly useful tips to get ready for the season. And I keep saying getting ready for the season before the season starts. If the hurricane warning flags are flying, and you haven’t even got a hurricane plan in place, you’re already behind the eight-ball. You’ve got to make some very important decisions very quickly. And if you haven’t got that plan in place, odds are that you aren’t going to make the right decisions under duress. So you’ve got to be doing that now while you’ve got some time and the calmness to do it.

Franklin: Let me add to that. You know, the National Hurricane Center uses social media. We’ve been increasing our presence there over the past couple of years. We’ve got a Facebook page — in fact it’s our most popular Facebook page in all of NOAA, if I’m not mistaken — and we also have a Twitter feed. But everything we put on there is just a small subset of what we put on our website. Social media doesn’t really replace a well-thought-out website, at least that’s my view. We use Facebook, we use Twitter basically to steer people to our website, where we have a complete suite of information. There’s just no way we can do everything on Facebook or Twitter.

And, finally, we want people of all ages, including children, to be ready for disasters. So how can we make hurricane preparedness fun?

Franklin: Well, it doesn’t have to be under duress, as I said earlier. What you do is that you get the family involved. You know, if we all sit around the kitchen table, bring the kids in and get them involved and give them an assignment. And that way they don’t see it as something like “well, I’ve got to do a chore,” but as something that everyone is involved in and everyone participates in.

I grew up in South Florida and lived through all of the hurricanes in the ’60s, and that was the way we did it. And there were four of us kids, and it all worked out really well. We all had a job to do, we all worked together and it was kind of a fun involved thing.

Feltgen:  I wouldn’t say that I made it very much fun for my daughter, but we’ve had to put up shutters here a few times. She’s been growing up, and it’s just a responsibility. I’m not sure that’ I’d ever characterize it as fun, and I bet she would never characterize it as fun. But it’s just part of being a family and everyone going together.

Thank you for tuning in to today’s podcast. For more information about the American Public Health Association’s Get Ready campaign, visit www.aphagetready.org.

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