Disaster Experts Want Coastal Residents Educated on Hurricane Hazards

By JENNIFER KAY | April 22, 2014

Two of the country’s top disaster experts on Wednesday challenged emergency managers and forecasters from Texas to Maine to help educate coastal residents and developers about hurricane hazards.

Speaking at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency urged city and county officials to factor disaster preparedness and risk into proposals for any new coastal development or post-storm reconstruction, along with job creation and tax revenues. But Craig Fugate also said he wouldn’t necessarily discourage building along the country’s storm-prone coastline.

Ideally, the risk should be shouldered by the private sector and not taxpayers, and plans should account for potential changes in population growth or sea level rise, Fugate said.

“We have rebuilt all kinds of infrastructure after a storm only to (see it) get washed away in the next storm. Why? Because we keep building to the past. We have to build to the future,” Fugate told reporters later.

National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb warned that many people on the Gulf and East coasts don’t know whether they live in an evacuation zone and don’t understand that a hurricane’s wind speeds won’t necessarily correspond to its storm surge.

“These folks need us to be more clear,” he said. “We need to make it easier.”

 Photo by Marilee Caliendo/FEMA

Photo by Marilee Caliendo/FEMA

Storm surge – the abnormal rise of sea water during a hurricane – is one of the deadliest and most damaging storm hazards, but it’s also hard to predict and hard to explain. This year, the hurricane center will try posting color-coded maps online if a storm threatens to make landfall, to show how far inland the ocean might surge and how high that water could rise in individual communities.

The maps are part of an ongoing effort at the hurricane center to emphasize a storm’s specific hazards, not just its path or its strength.

“It will enable us to do what words fail miserably at, and that is to clearly convey in a forecast a sense – even with uncertainties of track, intensity and size – of how far inland could the water go,” Knabb said. “We have not been communicating that in the public products up to this point.”

The six-month Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1.

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