Jacksonville District Emergency Management Branch Chief Aaron Stormant worries that he’s starting to sound like a broken record.
Despite forecasts in 2013 calling for an active hurricane season, only two hurricanes emerged, with neither reaching major status (defined as a storm with winds greater than 111 mph). Forecasts prior to last season called for eight hurricanes.
“I feel like I keep saying it every year, that we have to guard against complacency,” said Stormant. “The last hurricane hit Florida in 2005, and a lot of people have never experienced the devastation that can result from these events.”
Although some people living in Florida may have forgotten how to prepare, Stormant and his assistant, Logan Wilkinson, have been putting in extra hours in preparation for the 2014 hurricane season. They’ve been educating state and local officials about the Army Corps of Engineers’ emergency capabilities and learning about scenarios where assistance might be requested.
“It’s been a busy spring,” said Stormant. “We’ve reached out to counties in south Florida, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the South Florida Water Management District, and many other agencies, building relationships and gaining understanding of how we can work together during times of crisis.”
One of the highlights for Stormant this spring dealt with earthquakes instead of hurricanes, as officials in Alaska participated in an exercise dealing with a tremor followed by a major tsunami.
“That exercise was probably the closest thing I’ve ever seen to replicating a realistic event,” said Stormant. “As emergency managers, we must prepare for all hazards. Unless you live in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you may not know that there is daily earthquake activity. Most of it occurs deep in the ocean, so the impacts aren’t felt. However, for a big earthquake, the Corps would have a significant response role in that scenario as well.”
The district’s preparedness activities extend beyond the Emergency Management Branch. Selected members of the disaster Planning & Response Teams (PRTs) are scheduled for training. Jacksonville District maintains a response capability for deployment of PRTs that can provide expertise in temporary roofing and housing missions.
“While the teams remain ready to go, we are also looking for people who want to step up and volunteer as well, said Stormant. “Whether it’s the housing or roofing teams, working in the EOC [emergency operations center], or helping monitor contract performance, we have a job for every skill set.”
Officials are forecasting a less active hurricane season for 2014. The prediction from Colorado State University calls for only three hurricanes, with one reaching major status. Forecasters cite a developing El Niño and relatively cool temperatures in the Atlantic as the primary reasons.
Stormant worries the below average forecast could lead to more complacency, which could have devastating consequences.
“It only takes one event, regardless of what’s in the forecast,” said Stormant. “Everyone needs to have a plan for what they would do; they need to define the circumstances under which they would relocate. People with response roles have to plan for care of their families as well so they can continue the mission.”
Stormant says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website (www.ready.gov/hurricanes) and Florida’s emergency management website (www.floridadisaster.org) offer the best information on personal preparedness. Additional information is available from the National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov) and the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org/prepare).