Living in a State of Readiness
Hurricane Season in Florida
by Kathy Danforth / Published August 2014
Editor’s Note: This article was previously published in the June 2013 issue of FLCAJ and is reprinted here in an abridged format. For the full version of the article, please visit www.flcaj.com/content.cfm?articleID=998.
The standard Florida forecast of sun is facing its annual potential interruption by extreme wind and water events. Being spared a major hurricane for a period of years, plus the reading of statistics and probabilities with a little weariness thrown in, can lull associations and homeowners into thinking, “Sure, I’m still ready.” However, if you are in the hurricane’s path, you may have to deal with a full-force storm—before, during, and after—and that means that preparation must be 100 percent each year. The consolation that statistically it is unlikely that you will have to deal with devastation each year, unfortunately, will not diminish the effects when a tropical cyclone does hit.
The hazards presented by a hurricane include storm surge, inland flooding, sustained high winds, tornadoes, and rip currents…occurring primarily in a downpour. Storm surge can combine with high tide to raise water levels by 20 feet and, with the pounding wave action, can be the most destructive part of a storm. Multiple variables determine how the wind and pressure build storm surge, but the relatively shallow continental shelf off the Louisiana shoreline contributed to the 25–28 foot water levels brought about by Katrina in that deadly 2005 storm. Inland flooding is highly variable depending on storm size and movement, as well as rate of rainfall and other conditions, making a lack of flooding in the past no guarantee that a site is immune. A majority of hurricanes also spawn at least one tornado, in addition to the pummeling winds that are expected.
With these prospects, looking at the possible end results can help a community decide what policies, requirements, and preparation they want in place to prevent damage and facilitate recovery. How can water and wind damage be minimized? If buildings are damaged, utilities are out, roads are impassable, water has risen, and general assistance is unlikely, if not impossible, because everyone is also in distress, how will residents live, communicate, and rebuild? Boards are responsible for the common areas and matters of mutual concern and find that their guidance is vital to all members of the community, especially those with special needs.
A Community Emergency Response Team is a huge asset in planning, preparing, and responding to a disaster such as a hurricane. Training usually includes seven sessions, one evening per week, addressing disaster preparedness, fire suppression, medical response (two parts), light search and rescue, disaster psychology and team organization, and a concluding course review and disaster simulation. The concept of training civilians to meet immediate needs was introduced by the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1985. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) explains, “Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services will not be able to meet the demand for these services. Factors such as number of victims, communication failures, and road blockages will prevent people from accessing emergency services they have come to expect at a moment’s notice through 911. People will have to rely on each other for help in order to meet their immediate life-saving and life-sustaining needs.”
Pre-hurricane season events will include many of the following:
- Plan for people: Obtain keys to units, secure contact information for updates and ensuring owners are safe, and identify vulnerable persons who may need assistance in evacuation.
- Evacuation: Determine emergency shelters and evacuation routes, taking into account changes, roadwork, and the increase in traffic. Identify where pets may go.
- Grounds: Trim landscaping to minimize wind damage. Ensure pumps and drainage are in good condition.
- Power: Obtain or check generator if you will want that capability to recharge phones, run computers, and run water removal operations before power is restored. Stock fuel, as degraded fuel can damage equipment, and determine if you have a supplier that has their own generator and will be operational when needed.
- Insurance: Review your policy and photograph or video the property with date identification. Let all residents know that they should maintain all receipts for any additional living expenses to include in an insurance claim.
- Records: Secure all important papers/copies in waterproof containers off site. This will include financial records, employee records, insurance policies, all association-related documents, contact information for residents and all vendors, and contracts. Computer records should have hard drive back-up.
- Finances: Establish a line of credit or emergency reserves to begin remediation before insurance funds are available. Checks should be available to use if banks or credit systems are not functional.
- Restoration contracts: Establish contracts for significant, anticipated needs. The need will be urgent, the contractors busy, and scammers or inexperienced opportunists on the move.
- Develop plans for preparation: Identify and assign tasks and a timeline to prepare the property. Everyone, including employees, will have personal responsibilities to attend to as well as association concerns. Plans should include securing items, which could become airborne, shutters and window protection, diagrams of all utility shut-off points, etc., plus final clearing of gutters, adjustment of any water levels if applicable, and clearing/marking of drains. Note any changes from previous years: does the new pool furniture actually fit in the old location? Are there new employees, new equipment, or any residents/employees that are no longer serving that adjustments need to be made for? Residents should develop plans for their responsibilities.
- Emergency Supplies: Prepare a list and gather or re-stock supplies using emergency kit lists as a basis. Sources such as www.ready.gov/kit or the Hurricane Survival Guide at www.pbcgov.com/dem/hurricane can prod one’s memory. General needs will be food—non-perishable, with necessary opening/serving utensils—water for consumption and sanitation, communication items, vital paperwork, money, first aid supplies and medicines, clothing, bedding, tools, personal hygiene items—including moist towelettes—cleaning supplies, flashlight with batteries, and special supplies for pets or children. If you stockpile your emergency supplies, verify that no one has absconded with the batteries or desirable food items during the year, and replenish any food, fuel, etc. that have passed their expiration date. The question as to what happens after the “Best By” date is best saved for another time—though except for infant formula, quality rather than safety is generally the issue.
As a storm begins its approach, the time to implement personal and community preparation kicks in—recharging of electronics, filling gas tanks, laundry, filling the bathtub with water, setting refrigeration to the lowest setting, and other tasks. No one wants to waste time doing and undoing jobs, but to prepare and evacuate in a timely manner, starting early is essential. Roads will fill, store shelves will empty, and others will be preoccupied with their own concerns.
After the storm, the first matter of business is attending to people: ascertaining their location and attending to any in-jured or needy. Damage should be documented by photographs and video prior to any remediation. Prevent further damage from water, erosion, mold growth, or looting as much as possible; this is where the keys to all homes are a must. Let this hurricane season once again be a time to prepare more, and repair and regret less.