In late October, Hurricane Sandy, the 18th named storm and 10th hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, a category 2 hurricane at its peak, affected 24 states from Florida to Maine. The usually unaffected, and thus underprepared, states of New York and New Jersey received the brunt of the damage, which came from the destructive storm surge sweeping in from the coast.
Despite its low wind speeds, Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. It was also the nation’s 2nd costliest hurricane, behind Katrina, in part because it shut down the New York State Stock Exchange and NASDAQ for 2 days. Even as the relief efforts continue, it is already one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
Sandy’s impact was so great due to several factors, including historical lack of hurricanes in the region, under preparation and unheeded warnings by locals, and underestimation of the storm’s strength. Of these, the factor with the most potential for improvement is the preparation and education level of residents.
In 2011, the Florida Division of Emergency Management commissioned Mindspot Research to survey people throughout the State of Florida to help understand the level of preparedness in Florida for potential disasters. The study sought to measure the level of current preparedness and the expectations and attitudes about what it means to be prepared for a natural disaster. We looked at information sources for hurricanes and the level of hurricane-specific knowledge and preparedness; the perceptions of vulnerability; knowledge about hurricane watches and warnings; pets, special needs, and other potential obstacles to evacuation; mitigations; and having a plan for evacuation.
First off, our research shows most people are not familiar enough with the category system used to indicate the intensity of a hurricane. The scale starts at category 1, which ranges from 74 to 95 mph, and goes to category 5, with winds of 156 mph or stronger.
Only 77% of the Florida residents Mindspot Research surveyed considered a category 5 hurricane—one of greatest destructive forces on the planet—to be a potential disaster requiring at least some precautionary measures on their part. When Sandy made landfall in the Northeastern United States, it was considered to be a post-tropical superstorm with winds around 90 mph. To date, the storm has contributed to 199 fatalities and at least $52.4 billion in damages. So why wouldn’t 100% of those surveyed consider any hurricane a disaster that would require action?
The research also showed interesting points about the level of preparedness among Florida residents in an area very familiar with hurricanes.
• 4 out of 10 people believe their home is secure during a hurricane.
• 7 out of 10 people believe their home will sustain a hurricane category 3 or below.
• More than half of those responding feel they are prepared for a potential disaster today.
• Of those who said they were prepared for a potential disaster, significantly more Households without children are prepared.
• Respondents say they have prescription medications (92%), food (85%), important papers (81%), light (77%), grill/fuel (70%), radio (65%), water (50%), and a generator (26%). But only 14% of households have all of the 8 preparations considered critical.
The main take away from the study is that most people underestimate the danger of hurricanes and overestimate their readiness to face one. This is a deadly combination.
Having a family plan and not taking the destructive power of storms lightly are the most important things you can do to keep you and your loved ones safe during hurricane season. You have the responsibility to be proactive, instead of reacting like everyone else when it may be too late. In addition to ensuring you have the 8 items above, go to the National Hurricane Center for Hurricane Preparedness tips and information on how to find your local emergency management office.