Tuesday, September 1, 2015

It was seen in advance

Ten years ago, we were watching some of the most incredible images coming from the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina, a storm with winds less powerful than 1969's Category 5 Hurricane Camille, was flooding the largest city in the nation's 35th most populous metropolitan statistical area. 

Devastation in the center of New Orleans
There was no way that anyone could have possibly imagined the devastation that was to come. We had so few examples of cities laid so low in recent history. Sure, Galveston was laid waste to in 1900 and San Francisco had been shaken to its foundations in 1906, but in modern times, seeing a major city leveled like that was unbelievable. 

Hugo's clawing of Charleston in 1989 and Andrew's near-miss of downtown Miami in 1992 were wake up calls for sure, but it always seemed as if the big cities would always be spared the direct impact, right?

The October 2004 edition of National Geographic
Not everyone believed that. In fact, in October of 2004, hurricane-weary Americans who subscribed to National Geographic picked up their copies of the magazine to see a story about the loss of Louisiana's wetlands and their potential impact should the city be hit by a hurricane.

The hypothetical storm, Hurricane Pam, brought sustained winds of 120 miles per hour and nearly 20 inches of rain to the Big Easy, and challenged the teams assembled from nearly 50 federal, state, parish, city and non-governmental organizations. You can read the news release about the summary of the operation here to get all of the details.

And, in less than one year from that story hitting the news stands, an actual storm of the hypothesized system's strength plowed ashore, causing many of the anticipated issues.

The levees failed - as envisioned during the Hurricane Pam exercise
This post is not to assign blame or to Monday morning quarterback the public information efforts taken by the cities, parishes, counties or states involved. Instead, it should serve as a motivational tool for each of us as public information officers. We know what areas may be paralyzed by ice storms this coming winter. We know what areas may be affected by tornadoes in the fall or spring. We know what times of the year hurricanes or nor'easters can affect coastal areas. We know the potential for earthquakes, wildfires, mudslides or other disasters can befall our residents.

So, what are we going to do about it?

Are we going to look back in history at the disasters that befell where we live and learn the valuable lessons dearly learned by our predecessors,? Are we going to take the opportunities presented to us each and every day to make that connection with our residents?

It has been ten years. Do we still remember the lessons?

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

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