Lessons from Sandy

U.S. Coast Guard photo of Tuckerton, New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

It’s heartbreaking and disturbing to see what’s happened to the Northeast in the wake of Sandy.  There’s mind-numbing amounts of damage, more than 1 million people still without power and thousands upon thousands of people displaced from their homes.  It’s going to take a VERY long time for many areas of the Northeast – especially along the New Jersey shore and New York – to be anything close to what they were before Sandy.  It’s a scene of both destruction and misery for many, many people.  (To read more about what some are experiencing, click HERE).  However, a weather emergency of this magnitude was not a surprise.  Sandy was predicted several days in advance by computer models and weather forecasters.  But beyond that, meteorologists and emergency personnel have played out the scenario of a Sandy-like storm for years.  Computer models have predicted (almost to perfection) what would happen to New York City during a full-force hurricane hit.   Details such as the loss of electricity for millions, the flooding of lower Manhattan, the disruption of the public transportation system, the breakdown of city services, the coastal devastation – it’s all been seen before many times in the virtual world.  These predictions were even used in a series which aired on The Weather Channel a few years ago called, “It Could Happen Tomorrow”.   The series explored what would happen in a number of worst-case weather scenarios; one of which was New York City taking a direct hurricane hit – eerily accurate.   Government agencies,  first responders and meteorologists have been training for this event for years.  Why?  Because it’s been known for a very long time that this was likely to happen one day.   In many ways, Sandy’s devastation was no surprise.  Unfortunately, handling the real thing is almost always more difficult than handling the half-day simulations and drills. 

So, what are the take-aways from Sandy for you and your family?  Here are some thoughts:

1. Storms like Sandy are a fact of life.  If you don’t live along long coastal regions with the threat for hurricanes, you’re likely to live in an area with a threat of tornadoes, droughts, blizzards, floods or fire – all very disruptive events. 

2.  While there will always be some false alarms, when forecasters begin sounding the alarm for the potential of a major storm threat, take it seriously.  Advances in computer technology and computer modeling are making forecasts for disasters such as Sandy more and more accurate.  Over the next few years, false alarms will drastically decline.  That means if you get a warning of something that will affect your area, know there’s a better chance than ever of it actually happening.

3.  It’s up to you to be prepared and protect your family from these events.  Many in Sandy’s path feel helpless right now.  You have to prepare as if you are going to be on your own for several days before services are restored.  If you live in coastal areas, be prepared to evacuate – perhaps even before mandatory evacuations are put into place.  Know where you’ll go in the event that you have to leave.  Consider leaving early to get ahead of the traffic jams and back-ups that consistently form when mandatory evacuations are issued.  For weather events in which you would stay in your home such as during a tornado warning,  have a plan of action and know beforehand where to go.  Make sure your entire family knows where your safe area is – such as a small closet, bathroom, basement or storm shelter.  In your designated safe area, have a small box of a few items such as bottled water, non-perishable food, necessary medicines,  important papers, work gloves, blankets, a battery operated radio, weather radio, and a whistle (for helping rescuers find you in the event of building collapse).  You can purchase pre-packaged emergency kits from from your local Red Cross or order them online from a supplier.  

4.  Make sure that you’re properly covered with insurance to rebuild.  In coastal areas, this means not only having hurricane insurance but also having flood insurance along with your homeowners.  That way, you can be prepared for no matter what the weather brings.  Understand that the cost may be very very high to properly protect yourself along the coast.  However that’s a trade-off for living in a high-risk area.

From accounts in the media, life is pretty miserable for parts of the Northeast right now in the wake of Sandy.  The same could be said for areas of Alabama after the tornado outbreak of April 2011,  in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and in Miami after hurricane Andrew.  Dangerous weather is a fact of life in the United States.   Your best defense is to be prepared and to know what you’re going to do before the storm ever hits…

Here are a couple of other resources to help you prepare:

RED CROSS DISASTER PREPARATION
FEMA WEATHER PREPAREDNESS
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE WEATHER PREPAREDNESS

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