Hurricane and Wildfire Season 2021: Steps Communities Should Take Now to Prepare
At the end of most previous hurricane and peak wildfire seasons, there is typically a slight pause in activity for emergency managers. This enables continued community recovery as well as the ability to take lessons learned from to begin bolstering capabilities for the next season. Often, the “off season” is where the real work gets done – reviewing plans, organizing stakeholders and networking with colleagues to refine best practices. Yet, because of the ongoing pandemic response, 2020 and 2021 have not afforded many that opportunity. Once again, emergency managers are preparing to pivot directly from the ongoing COVID-19 response and vaccination operations directly into hurricane and wildfire response. While progress has been made on the vaccination front, and the initial vaccine supply and demand challenges have stabilized, emergency managers’ involvement in vaccine operations has undoubtedly shortened their time to prepare for what communities across the country could face this hurricane and wildfire season. Here are three important things jurisdictions should be doing now to prepare.
Lean forward to prepare your community. Emergency managers spend a significant amount of their time proactively communicating with the public, and it is even more important to do so this year. With community spread of COVID-19 still occurring, the decisions individuals make before and during future disasters may change. The ability of emergency managers to effectively communicate preparedness actions to the public could, in part, drive success or failure of disaster response operations.
If COVID-19 restrictions remain in your jurisdiction, emergency managers must find unique ways to get the preparedness message out to the public. In a world now used to virtual information sharing, the tools are there to reach the community in innovative ways including social media, wireless emergency alerts, radio ad buys, and more. Understand how your community best consumes information and news and ensure guidance is communicated sooner rather than later.
Additionally, just as important as communicating with the public, emergency managers must also set expectations and clearly outline plans and procedures with partner agencies and others who support disaster response and recovery. COVID-19 has impacted the way communities respond to other disasters and although those impacts may not be as significant as they were last year, the remaining adjustments still warrant analysis and understanding throughout the whole community – including private sector partners who play a critical role in both disaster response and recovery.
Get back to basics. Now, before hurricanes and wildfires strike, emergency managers should be reviewing response and recovery plans with their respective teams. Reviews should be done in coordination with relevant partners who have a role in these plans to include resource management, mass care and sheltering, alert and warning, debris management, utility restoration, and post-disaster housing. Intentionally spending time focused on the basics after a busy year of COVID-19 response will pay dividends in the next disaster.
Maximize relationships built responding to COVID-19. Every time emergency managers respond to and recover from a disaster, contacts are made, relationships are built, and, as a result, we become better prepared to respond to future events. The past year has brought out some of the best work in our communities and has required the assistance and support of a wide range of external partners. Federal, state, and local government departments and agencies have taken on new roles throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic once again validating the whole community approach to emergency management – which includes the general public, private sector, faith-based organizations, non-profit groups, media outlets, and more. Continue to engage these organizations and individuals and understand that they can serve a valued role in disasters beyond the pandemic. If you have added new members to your team over the past year, foster those relationships and formally involve them where they can be most useful during the next event.
Hurricane and wildfire response in 2021 will no doubt be filled with challenges, some of them leftover from 2020 and some new. For the second time in many years, emergency managers will once again have to balance the ongoing COVID-19 response and recovery with the immediate life-threatening risk from hurricanes and wildfires. Throughout the month of May, Hagerty’s Response professionals will be authoring a weekly blog post to provide emergency managers across the country things to consider and plan for as they prepare to respond to disasters this summer.
Lee Mayfield is Hagerty’s Response Director and is a proven emergency management leader with over 13 years of experience in disaster planning, response, and recovery – specializing in state and local coordination, training and exercise, mass care, evacuation prioritization, and crisis response.
Prior to joining Hagerty, Lee served as the Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management for Lee County, FL where he oversaw and supported the county’s response to and recovery from Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Want to join Hagerty’s Response Team?
Fill out this form and we’ll be in touch!