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Preparing for the Future by Learning from the Past


I grew up in Florida. While students in the mid-West learned about green sky warnings and the West learned about earthquake safety, we spent our school days discussing emergency kits and flood zones. As a kid, I remember sheltering in place with board games, flashlights, and emergency radios.

I am really grateful for this preparedness education because it helped my family through the terrible 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Because my parents stocked up on bottled water and non-perishable foods in advance, they were able to make it through the extended power outage that followed Hurricane Wilma. And when I couldn’t get a hold of them because cellular towers were down, I knew which neighbor’s landline to call to make sure they were ok.

In 2011, I moved to New York City and thought the worst disaster I would experience would be crowded subways and the occasional snow storm. I was prepared, but surprised, when we experienced both Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy back to back.

So how do we know what natural disasters to prepare for in our community, and when they are most likely to occur?

Over the past few months, I have been working with a great group of colleagues here at FEMA to help you answer those questions. We developed a new visualization that allows you to explore when and where disasters have occurred using historical disaster declaration data. All this information is on interactive maps and charts, that you can filter based on location, year, and hazard.

Here’s a little bit more from the Administrator:

View in FEMA Multimedia Library

Looking at the data visualized, you might be surprised by what you see.

What types of natural disasters occur in your community?

In the great state of Florida, what do you think is the most frequently declared disaster? I expected hurricanes, but they aren’t the most historically declared disaster. Floods and coastal storms make the top of the list, but they aren’t the number one disaster declaration either.

Since 1953, the hazard with the highest number of disaster declarations has actually been wildfires.

As I have been working on the project this was something that really surprised me, and Florida isn’t the only state with surprises:

  • Georgia had a disaster declaration for snow in 1993.
  • Oregon experienced the effects of a tsunami in 2011.
  • The Pacific Coast isn’t the only area that experience earthquakes --New York, Virginia, and Washington D.C. join the list as well.

When do natural disasters usually occur?

While natural disasters can be unpredictable, having an understanding when they have historically occurred can help you better prepare and plan.

For example, as we prepare for this year’s hurricane season, we can learn from the past. Hurricane season officially started on June 1 and runs until November 30th. Using the new disaster declaration, you can click on a specific state or county to see when hurricanes have historically happened during the year.

For example, in the visualization you can see that historically states along the Gulf Coast experience hurricanes during the earlier part of the season; June, July, August, and September. This is the hurricane season I remembered as a child and is what NOAA depicts as general patterns for hurricanes, although hurricanes can originate in different locations and have different paths than expected.

The east coast states have historically experienced hurricanes later in the year, in September, October, or November. Hurricane Sandy hit so late there was snow on the ground the following week.

The screen shots below show the historical difference between hurricane declarations in my home state of Florida and my new home in New York.

 1 in July, 5 in August, 17 in September, 6 in October, 1 in November, and 1 in December. The breakdown of hurricanes in New York is 3 in August, 5 in September, and 4 in October.

The first step to being prepared is being informed.

Get ready this hurricane season by learning about the natural disasters that have occurred in your community and when they have historically occurred. Visit the new disaster declarations data visualization and see a history of disaster declarations visualized. Then, take action to prepare for those hazards by creating a family plan, signing up for local alerts, or updating your emergency supplies.

We are always looking for ways to improve the visualization and want to make it as useful as possible, so please let us know what you think.

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Last Updated: 
06/02/2017 - 09:22


Would the massive sow storms in Buffalo NY count as a natural disaster? because I like to prepare for that again