National Safety Council Breakfast – 20 August 2009

  On 20 August 2009 I was the guest speaker at a breakfast, one of a series, sposored by the National Safety Council South Florida Chapter, hosted by Hurricane Warning at the Disaster Survival House in Deerfield Beach, Florida. In my presentation I spoke about the need for a hurricane scale, I called it an “index”, that will give the general public an acurate image of what to expect in the way of damage from the impact of a hurricane of a given intensity, something beyond the current ‘Safir Simpson Hurricane Scale’. You can view the powepoint presentation I used to illustrate my remarks at the following link: Assessing Hurricane Impact

My remarks at the NSC breakfast were based on similar comments I made as a panelist in one of the concurrent sessions at the 2009 Natural Hazards Workshop hosted by the Natural Hazards Center in Colorado in July of 2009. A brief summary of my presentation follows:

If you are a business or property owner or manager, or a homeowner or resident in Southeast Florida, reducing the potential for damage from hurricane impacts should be a priority in view of your location in the most hurricane-vulnerable region in the United States.

Not only is Southeast Florida exposed to an annual hurricane season, but this is also the region which has suffered the most impacts and some of the costliest and deadliest hits from hurricanes over the more than 150 years since records of Atlantic tropical cyclones have been kept.

Despite the reality of our hurricane vulnerability and the inevitability of the annual Atlantic hurricane season it seems many are often surprised by the amount of damage each time the region suffers a hit, regardless of the category of hurricane. Why is that?

While many factors contribute to this continuing element of surprise the main reason for this is that the potential impact of an approaching hurricane is by and large a rather subjective image we each have, an image that is colored by experience or the lack thereof. Take for example the Florida resident that categorized category 5 hurricane Andrew as “not a big deal”, but did not factor in the fact that he had been some 60 miles away from the area of strongest winds; or the TV newscaster who dismissed approaching Wilma as “just a category 1 storm, not much to worry about” the day before that hurricane impact left more than $1.2 billion in damages; or the public officials who hesitated activating their hurricane emergency plan as tropical storm Irene attacked, to then witness one of the costliest disasters in the region.

It is clear something must be done to convert the subjective image of a hurricane impact into an objective estimate of potential damage that is understood by all, and which will cause residents of the target area to take action including long term mitigation to reduce the potential for damage from recurring hurricane impacts.

The scientific community is aware of this need and has begun the search for solutions. Recently the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale was modified into the ‘Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale’, which has removed the references to storm surge levels and central minimum pressure to concentrate only on maximum sustained surface winds as a measure of the strength of an approaching hurricane. Also, a few weeks ago in mid-July in Colorado, a panel of experts at the 34th Annual Natural Hazards Conference initiated a dialog on the need for a “New Hurricane Impact Index” at one of the most attended concurrent sessions there, which is continuing through a recently formed “Hurricane Index Google Group” that aims to foster participation from many sectors in search of effective solutions.

It is critical that each of us as individuals, residents of a highly vulnerable region, become more knowledgeable of how to assess our own potential for hurricane impact so that we can take effective actions to reduce the level of damage. It is equally critical that we learn how future hurricane impacts may be exacerbated by various factors such as global warming.