[No Excuse Zone] Weather Safety is Personal Responsibility

This evening I read a USA Today article of recent vintage, covering a poll conducted by the National Hurricane Survival Initiative, a joint project of the National Hurricane Center, the Salvation Army and the Florida Division of Emergency Management, and not coincidentally, completed just in time for National Hurricane Preparedness Week next week. [I would link directly to the results, but none of those entities, nor FEMA, have posted the results yet.]

Four major hurricanes affected Florida last year, three of whom made direct landfall in the state and one (Ivan) missing a center strike by a few miles but causing great damage around Pensacola. These storms spawned unprecedented levels of seasonal damage area, tornadoes and publicity. Being in a digital information era with unprecedented hurricane impact, never before have people been so bombarded with news and information about hurricanes.

They (you?) aren’t listening, or don’t care.

That’s the screaming message I’m getting from the results published so far, such as 54% believing the old myth that masking tape protects windows from shattering. [As if rocks and boards flying at 120 mph give a flip about a piece of tape I can tear with my fingernails…] Around 96% don’t realize that the garage door is the greatest failure point for a house in damaging wind. Roughly 89% of coastal residents got the equivalent of an failing grade on a 20 question hurricane preparedness quiz. Only two out of every 100 people can answer 14 or more questions about hurricane preparedness correctly — a grade of at least C.

Pathetic! Inexcusable!

With all the information out there, no resident of Atlantic or Gulf coastal areas has any valid reasons for failing to understanding how to prepare. Such ignorance can only be by choice, which is sad and lame. It not only places oneself in jeopardy of death, but also, rescue or emergency workers that may respond to frantic calls for help when things get too intense and the house starts to float or crumble…or the road inland gets cut off by rising water. What then? Help may not come. It could be too late. Does this have to happen?

NHC isn’t going to call you to tell you that your house is in dire jeopardy. You need to figure out for yourself when this could happen and know what do do about it beforehand. NHC issues watches and warnings. The EM folks set up evacuation plans and routes, and determine if you may need them in certain situations. FEMA offers tips on building safer dwellings in the first place. Take advantage of this help, courtesy of your tax money, before it’s too late.

The time to think of storm preparedness is now, not when NHC has a hurricane watch or warning out, not when there’s a tornado watch or warning blaring over the airwaves, not when lightning already is striking the golf course, not when the front door can’t be opened because the snow covers it all.

Who, exactly, is responsible for personal safety in a tropical storm or hurricane…or any other weather disaster? Not the National Weather Service. Not FEMA. Not the county or city emergency manager or the local police or fire response units. Instead, it is every single person‘s duty to himself and his family to understand storm safety!

This means personal responsibility. I know that concept isn’t fashionable in some quarters, where victims are both created and born and where we’re portrayed as oppressed and helpless in the face of external threats. Rubbish. You have to make storm safety decisions for yourself, and if you’re a parent or caretaker, for the safety of your loved ones. And no whining, “I didn’t get any warning,” or, “It hit without warning,” if the bulletin indeed was out, but you didn’t bother to pay attention for it. Ignorance is no excuse.

The solution is simple: education. The websites I linked above have very useful links themselves to all manner of hurricane safety and preparedness information. Use them. Folks should know first of all where they are: the city, county and state you live in, and all the surrounding counties and towns. [This isn’t a facetious statement. Some can’t name their own county!]

Understand what can happen where you are, when to stay, where to hide, when to get the hell out, and how. Talk to your county emergency management office about disaster, evacuation and recovery plans for your area; the number is in the phone book’s blue pages. Take a couple of hours some weekend and learn about hurricane safety and preparedness from the Red Cross, tornado safety, and general information about hurricanes and tornadoes. Have all the needed supplies at the ready before disaster hits — including a battery equipped, “SAME” encoded weather radio. Be alert for weather watches and warnings for all kinds of deadly weather that may hit your area (whether hurricane, tornado, winter storm, extreme heat, extreme cold, severe thunderstorm, or other high winds). Most of all, understand well in advance what to do for any of them, whether at home or traveling to other parts of the country where such dangers may strike.


2 Responses to “[No Excuse Zone] Weather Safety is Personal Responsibility”

  1. Scott on May 20th, 2005 4:31 am

    Roger–thanks for pointing something out that should be blatantly obvious to people who live in storm-prone areas. I have a sense that people who live in Tornado Alley have better storm awareness and knowledge of what to do in a tornado than people on the coasts have awareness about hurricanes. You have any feelings about this?

    Two summers ago I was driving cross-country with a friend. We stopped for dinner in my hometown of Wichita Falls, TX, site of the massive 4/10/79 F4 tornado. The western sky was black with an approaching storm, and two large, ominous lowerings were slowly rotating over the southwest part of the city. At first my friend couldn’t understand why I was shaking and breaking the speed limit to get to a sturdy windowless restaurant, but when he heard other patrons in the restaurant listening to their portable NOAA weather radios, then heard a customer walking into Target asking a clerk where the nearest weather radio was being monitored, he began to understand!

  2. tornado on May 21st, 2005 9:01 am

    In general, having grown up in the southern Plains and lived here most of my life — but also lived in South Florida during Andrew — I agree. Great Plains residents are more weather-savvy and aware, in general.

    That said, sometimes folks here get overconfident in their “knowledge” and experience. Witness all the self-proclaimed chasers and spotters, mainly local “wanna-be’s” with no meteorological education at all, who jump out with camcorders in hand after the nearest flashing red dot on the TV weather screen, and in the process, cause headaches or genuine hazards for legitimate spotters and emergency vehicles. The coastal attitudes, by contrast, seem characterized more by ignorance than overconfidence. I don’t know which is more dangerous, honestly.

    Long time residents in South Florida had gone since Betsy in 1967 without a major hurricane, and that was before the overwhelming majority of 1992 residents either were born or moved there. Put a major hurrricane at tle locus of any probability fan that includes South Florida today, and the public mood massively descends ito dread and fear. Andrew did a massive attitude adjustment, but still, not massive enough, judging by the cantankerous old geezers and partying young airheads who are interviewed every season about why they won’t leave their Miami Beach dwellings.

    The alert folks of Wichita Falls experienced the Andrew phenomenon also, but more acutely, since two violent tornadoes happened in a 16 year period (1964-1979), and since numerous non-tornadic severe storms roam the area neary every spring. I have eaten at the Golden Corral near Midwestern State University during a severe thunderstorm; and the look of worry on people’s faces is real and unmistakable. Even those who didn’t see the 1.5 mile wide, jet-black bulldozer of terror grinding through the city in ’79 have heard the stories and seen the photos. Those scars run deep and the nightmares don’t go away. With hurricanes, however, little may happen for many, many years to keep people on edge, at a healthy level. Coastal residents are transient, and often deceived by “experiencing” only the outer parts of a hurricane instead of its eyewall. “What have you done lately, atmosphere?” seems to be the dominant theme.

    Ask anyone in Moore, OK, about the validity of such thinking. I keep looking for huge fang marks on road maps showing Moore, because that town seems snake-bit. Or try Punta Gorda FL — at least for another 10-15 years until the memories have faded away, moved elsewhere or died with those who were there for Charley.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.