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Preparing Emergency Managers for Hurricane Season

Release Date

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Editor’s Note: Mr. Landsea had the unique opportunity through NOAA’s Leadership Competency Development Program to work at FEMA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. for three months.  While at FEMA, he contributed to both the training conducted by the National Hurricane Program as well as developing the “ground truth” for Hurricane Cora’s simulated landfall into Virginia.  

The 2017 hurricane season will be remembered for the extreme devastation it caused in Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Florida as well as our neighbors in the Caribbean.  While long-term recovery efforts continue, plans have been readied for the  2018 hurricane season.  No one knows how the United States will be affected by hurricanes this year, so plans must be prepared with the possibility that your community will be impacted.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency with federal partners, such as the National Weather Service/National Hurricane Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alongside state, county, and city emergency managers, have been working diligently to prepare for hurricane season.  This is done through training and outreach events coordinated by FEMA’s National Hurricane Program.  The program’s mission is to provide technical assistance to emergency managers and federal government partners for hurricane preparedness training, response and evacuation planning, and operational decision support.                                                

During this past winter and spring, the National Hurricane Program provided critical training for emergency managers that helps them to make well-informed decisions for the next hurricane. These life and death decisions include ordering evacuations of residents away from the coast, closing schools, and preparing their communities from hurricane-force winds, storm surge, fresh water flooding, and tornadoes. 

These trainings have resulted in hundreds of emergency managers receiving these crucial updates, and additional courses are scheduled for the summer.  Such training is an annual necessity due to the availability of new forecast products by the National Weather Service/National Hurricane Center, revised Hurricane Evacuations Studies (led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) due to increasing populations along the coast, changes and updates to decision support tools and capability, and job turnover in the emergency management community. Trainings also promote the availability of operational decision support and technical assistance through FEMA’s Hurricane Liaison Team (HLT). Embedded at the National Hurricane Center, the HLT facilitates the rapid exchange of critical information between the National Hurricane Center and the emergency management community.

A man stands in a classroom with students listening to a question.

In addition to regular training, FEMA led the 2018 National Level Exercise for the simulated Category 4 Hurricane Cora that hit the Virginia coast and simulated a direct strike on Washington, D.C.  FEMA’s National Exercise Division led the planning and execution of this large-scale exercise, which was held from April 30 to May 11, 2018.

While the 2017 hurricane season was quite active, FEMA and Emergency Managers in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia were – fortunately – not directly affected, so the exercise allowed emergency managers in those locations to test and execute their hurricane planning, response, and recovery actions.

The exercise provides the ability for all levels of government, private industry, and non-governmental organizations to examine how they protect against, respond to, and recover from a major Mid-Atlantic hurricane.

It is through these detailed, realistic exercises that existing hurricane plans can be examined before the next storm threatens the United States.  If gaps or problems are uncovered, they can be remedied so that FEMA and partners at the local, county, and state level can help people be safer and better prepared for when, not if,  a hurricane comes to shore. It is also an opportunity to revisit lessons learned from the previous hurricane season and implement them during the exercise.

As all levels of government, private industry, and non-governmental organizations prepare for hurricane season, the general public can and should become engaged with both hurricane preparedness training for your family and business.  Here are some on-line options for learning more about hurricane hazards and how to be prepared down to the neighborhood level:

  • (Plan ahead for Disasters.  Talk with your family.)
  • Red Cross (The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.​)
  • The FEMA App (Receive alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations.  Get safety reminders, read tips to survive natural disasters, and customize your emergency checklist.  Locate open shelters and where to talk to FEMA in person [or on the phone].  Upload and share your disaster photos to help first responders.)
  • COMET (The COMET® Program is a world-wide leader in support of education and training for the environmental sciences, delivering scientifically relevant and instructionally progressive products and services.)

       These efforts by FEMA’s National Hurricane Program and FEMA’s National Exercise Division are two of the ways that the nation will be more resilient the next time a hurricane threatens.