At Least, Do the Basics

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria’s Lessons

At Least the BASICS!

As we watched Hurricanes Harvey strike the Houston area, Irma strike Florida, and then watched Maria devastate Puerto Rico, we witnessed the might of CAT4+ hurricanes upon structures and people. These massive storms again remind us of our need for personal and family disaster planning. Consider what we would do if one of these hurricanes had struck our area or city? One of these days, a severe storm will inflict destruction here in our city and area.

Harvey was a “rain event” hitting Houston with continuous monsoon rains for days. Irma led forecasters on a “storm chase”. Unable to accurately predict its track, made forecasting difficult to determine probable impact area and prepare until the last 48 hours.

Maria devastated Puerto Rico and destroyed the island’s obsolete and poorly maintained power grid. Winds and flooding destroyed 90%+ of the island’s homes, structures and transportation infrastructure. Half of the island’s 3 million residents are without clean water two weeks after the storm passed. Cholera and typhus outbreaks are possible.

All three hurricanes, dangerous, and deadly demonstrate that we should be prepared for AT LEAST THE BASICS. Our efforts should do what is required to get us through. For basic planning, see CASPER (Coastal Action Storm Plan and Emergency Response) and Strategic Recovery Plan on SDCC websites: ( Join your neighborhood civic organization. Check out the SDCC website.

Consider the following:

Planning. Do enough to get you and your family through the first week following a storm. Greatest needs are:

  1. Water. Buy a water filter hand pump ($60-$300 at sporting goods stores). Set aside some clean storage containers.
  2. Food. Set aside canned foods that store well and can be eaten without heating.
  3. Shelter. Without power, a house may be uninhabitable. Buy a tent ($75-$300)
  4. Lighting. LED flashlights and lanterns offer much, cost little. Solar powered yard lights work enough. Hand-crank recharged lights work.
  5. The Stay-go discussions. Evacuating out of the area is impossible if attempted late. Staying in place may be impossible. Figure out and discuss your needs and options. Consider medical needs and probable disruptions. How much can you pack in your car? Can you get there in time before the storm starts?
  6. Medical Needs. Does a family member need chemo or dialysis treatments, or use insulin? Do you have a sufficient supply of needed medicines? Does your oxygen generator require electrical power to operate? How long will your oxygen tank last before a refill is required? Is someone medically fragile?
  7.  News and Information A battery powered or hand-cranked radio will be the source of information.
  8. Stay connected with loved ones. Use group text messaging to communicate on smart phones.
  9. Fuel Requirements. Consider how many gallons would be required to operate your emergency power generator for many days. Boats and cars could be a fuel resource, but safely accessing fuel may be difficult.
  10. ATM cash. ATM’s may be down or drained of cash for some time.

Weather Forecasting. Waiting for the forecaster’s “spaghetti” tracks to give enough warning may not leave you enough time to make preparations. Your family timeline should probably not be the same as shown by city and state officials. When state and city officials determine that the threat is eminent, it may be too late for you to react. You know your needs. It is safer for you to be cautious and follow your timeline.

Basic Necessities. Consider the necessities. Buy the basics. Don’t get fancy. Putting in a $9,000 emergency generator does no good if flooding destroys it. Consider your “real” necessities and do what will provide you, your family, and pets with the basics; food, water, and shelter, security and some level of comfort.

Communications. A text message sent from a loved one who has been in peril can ease a parent’s or spouse’s anxiety. With our smart phones and devices, sending a group text to family and friends can be easily accomplished if your phone has some power left even with a weak signal. Recharging devices can present a challenge, but is doable using your car’s outlet, with a solar charger, or connecting to a battery. We just need to have the required connectors.

Flood Insurance. As Hurricane Harvey moved very slowly through the Houston area, it became a “Rain event” causing extensive flood damages. Atypical monsoonal (1+ feet per hour) rainfalls flooded areas that had no history of past flooding. In these flood areas, only 15% had any kind of flood insurance. Flooding occurred when very heavy rainfalls surpassed city’s drainage systems capacities. Obviously, cities cannot afford to build drainage systems for 500-year flood levels. The destruction of a home that is not covered by flood insurance presents many issues, not only for the owner, but also for real estate assessments, city funding, and mortgage banking. Would it be cost efficient and reasonable to spend $2,000 to $5,000 per year for flood insurance for a once in a lifetime (?) event? Perhaps the insurance industry should offer coverage for a much lower risk flood event at a significant discount if more properties were covered? Until available, consider the “Rain event” flood possibility for your home, condo or apartment.

David Williams

CHSCA Emergency Planner

4 OCT 2017


Virginia Beach and Hurricane(s)

Neighborhood Storm Readiness
As the city enters another hurricane season, we are reminded that we are vulnerable to nature’s furry. Most of us would like to place hurricane preparations on our “B” or “C” list of priorities because so many chores and duties take up our time. We may think that we are ready, or can be ready in just a short time, but you may be surprised at how much time it takes to prepare for a major storm. Just consider how long it takes you to pack for a trip or vacation, and that is something that you want to do. I know. I just got back from Brussels, and I am a planner.

Recently, the hurricane predictors estimated how many hurricanes the area might experience in the coming year. In my opinion, I think such a government endeavor misses the mark. It is not how many hurricanes that may impact you, but if one should hit our area. Consider that hurricane Andrew was the first hurricane that year to hit the east coast and that it was a Cat 5. South of Miami was devastated while the residents were obviously aware of a hurricane’s potential.

We can only do so much here in VB, but we can put together a basic plan for ourselves and family. The city cannot provide enough storm shelters to help out more than about 10% of the people in the most endangered flood prone areas. If you plan on evacuating the area, consider that it will be very difficult if done too late (within 36-48 hours or more before the onset of TROPICAL Force Winds).

So, if you cannot evacuate, your area floods and there are no shelters for you and your family, what are your options? Stay where you are or hope to find a friend in a safer area? I think this is the time to to consider such principle questions for your basic planning, not when the weather lady points out a developing tropical depression that is soon to be named a hurricane.

If you do anything for yourself and family, consider what you would need in a basic emergency kit for your home to provide three days of support. There are multiple sites to help with your list making and planning. SDCC will put more information on our website to help with your planning shortly.

Community Rating System- Your $$$’s !!! ???

For all those home owners who have to pay for flood insurance for their property, FEMA, in conjunction with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has a program to help offset the costs of premiums up to 45% annually. Started by FEMA in 1990, the Community Rating System (CRS) program is initiated by the city and managed by the assigned coordinator.The Coordinator’s position is designated by the city’s mayor.

The CRS program has three major goals; (1) reduce flood damage to insurable property; (2) strengthen and support the insurance aspects of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP); and encourage a comprehensive approach to floodplain management. The CRS program is designed to help residents decrease the damage done to their property by storm flooding.

The CRS program consists of 18 public information and floodplain management activities as described in the National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System Coordinator’s Manual (publication FIA-15/2013). Many of these activities are already being implemented and are ongoing in this city. Some of these activities include; maintaining Elevation Certificates for new construction in the floodplain (required when building or financing a mortgage for a home); providing Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) information service; sending information to residents to those in flood hazard areas concerning hazards and mitigations; providing a community website for residents to find technical information on how to protect buildings from flooding; developing new flood elevation information beyond original FIRM data; and protecting existing floodplain structures by flood proofing, elevation and minor structural improvements.

There is more that this city can reasonably do to improve our ability to obtain Flood Insurance premium rate reductions. To begin with, this city must apply to participate in the CRS program. As of this date, that has not occurred for various reasons according to my discussions and emails with several city officials. Currently, this city is the only city in the Hampton Roads area to not participate. Because some city officials have chosen to not take part in the NFIP Community Rating System program, all residents currently paying Flood Insurance premiums are not eligible for those reduced premiums. It should be noted that the cost of flood insurance premiums are expected to increase significantly in 2016 unless Congress changes the current laws governing FEMA and the NFIP. As this city is currently conducting some of the required activities of the CRS, I would expect that our future insurance premiums could be decreased by at least 15-20% if the city were to participate in the CRS program, like all the other cities in Hampton Roads.