AMU Emergency Management In Public Safety Matters Podcast Public Safety

There Is No ‘Safe’ or ‘Quiet’ Hurricane Season

Podcast featuring Glynn Cosker, Edge and
Dr. Chris Reynolds, Dean, Vice President of Academic Outreach and Program Development

In this episode, Dr. Christopher Reynolds, AMU’s Dean and Vice President of Academic Outreach and Program Development, offers some expert advice on what to do before, during and after a hurricane. Hear what he’s learned during his more than three decades of emergency management and disaster preparedness experience.

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Glynn Cosker: Hello and welcome to the podcast. I’m Glynn Cosker, your host. Joining me today is Dr. Chris Reynolds, AMU’S Dean and Vice President of Academic Outreach and Program Development. He is a certified emergency manager through IAEM.

His career in emergency and disaster management spans more than three decades and includes some on the ground responses, including the Oklahoma City bombing, various major hurricanes over the years, including Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina, and various earthquake responses and other recovery operations, including the Haitian earthquake in 2010. And full disclosure, he’s a great friend of mine and one of the best people on the planet. Chris, how are you today?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Oh, I’m fine, Glynn. Thank you so much for that introduction. That’s very kind of you.

Glynn Cosker: And today, we are going to be talking though about the annual Atlantic hurricane season, which is upon us. Officially, it started on June 1st and it ends on November 30th, so we still have quite a bit of it to go. But as of recording this podcast, we are nearing what is traditionally the peak of the season, which is somewhere around the second week of September.

And two years ago, you and I actually did a podcast like this one two years ago. But in 2020, by this time of the year, the peak period, we’d seen 16 named tropical storms and hurricanes. And the number last year at this time was 15. This year, we’ve had five. So, it’s, shall we say, a slow season this year.

In fact, there wasn’t a single storm in the month of August for the first time since 1997, but some 30 years ago, the 1992 season was this slow too for a while, relatively quiet, until late August of 1992 when Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Florida as a Category 5 hurricane. So, there’s no schedule, there’s no good or slow or safe hurricane season, and everybody on the East Coast and near the Gulf should be vigilant. So Chris, my first question is, if you wouldn’t mind telling our listeners, if you lived in any of those areas I mentioned, the East Coast or the Gulf, how would you be proactively protecting your home right now?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Well, honestly, everything you brought up is absolutely accurate. One can never determine what’s going to constitute a good or a bad hurricane season. Hurricane season is hurricane season, and we all have to be prepared no matter what. Living in Florida, myself, we prepare for hurricane season every year.

And the scenario that you outlined, what I would be doing. Is I would be first making sure that I had enough materials. In materials, I mean batteries, nonperishable food, three day supply of my medications, my important papers in waterproof containers or boxes or bags. I’d want to be sure that my home is prepared, first of all, to make sure that I can sustain and withstand a storm for up to 72 hours, because that’s generally the timeframe one must be prepared for before help or aid arrives.

Other things that I’d want to be sure of is knowing where my evacuation zones are. I’d ask myself, do I live in an evacuation zone or if I do in fact live in an evacuation zone, where is my shelter? What are the shelter locations in my area? What are the egress routes? Are they interstate highways? Or are they state roads? Do any of the roads I have to take border rivers or border the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic, for example? These are all things I want to know. And by having that knowledge going into hurricane season, you’re better prepared to act when a storm threatens.

Glynn Cosker: And it’s interesting, you said 72 hours is the duration that you mentioned, and a lot of our listeners may not actually realize that 72 hours is key after a major storm hits. Some people think, well, it’s come through, it’s made landfall, it’s gone and get back onto my life. But those 72 hours can be quite traumatic for a lot of people.

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Yes, they sure can, Glynn, And I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that when a hurricane comes through, it has the potential to destroy the infrastructure of a community. In infrastructure, I mean, everything from power and electricity, water, wastewater, the road networks by blocking with debris, traffic signals, cell phone operations, the things that we take for granted each and every day. And the 72-hour mark because that’s the amount of time it’s going to take for the community to get back into a position, where it can restore critical infrastructure and start reaching out to people who may be trapped or maybe in areas that are unreachable.

Glynn Cosker: Now, would you say it’s a minimum of 72 hours? Because you were part of the Hurricane Katrina emergency response team back in 2005, and of course, the impact of that lasted more like 72 days than 72 hours. It’s still actually on ongoing aftermath in a lot of ways, and it’s been referred to as the worst-case scenario that everyone had feared. But is that true? I mean, is there a similar worst case scenario that we should perhaps be prepared for both on the civilian level and the level of professional disaster preparedness?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: One can go back and look at Katrina and you really can’t attribute the failure to any single element. It was a cascading effect of activities, I should say, or the lack thereof that led to the disaster in Katrina. I mean, once Katrina hit and it had gone through and it created the wind damage it had created, it was the flooding and the levies breaking that created a lot of the problem, and the flooding in and of itself made it extremely difficult for rescuers to reach people.

And we all have vivid memories of people stuck on rooftops waiting for help. We have vivid memories of many of the areas just utter devastation with water. And a lot of the blame, so to speak, was lack of preparedness planning and lack of training on many of the responding entities into Katrina. In fact, the Post-Katrina Reform Act was a bill that was passed by the Congress not long after Katrina, a year or so later, that essentially said that those types of failures would never occur again in government.

And it essentially rewrote the book in terms of preparedness, in terms of mitigation, so to say that could a Katrina happen today, I’m going to say that certainly is possible, but it’s less likely because governments are better prepared now for what the Hurricane Katrina events that occurred that created all the problems. They’re now answered earlier on, or they’re mitigated prior to a storm possibly hitting.

Glynn Cosker: So, if the exact same storm was brewing up in the Gulf right now and was predicted to arrive near New Orleans. You think now that there’d be a different proactive approach going on right now down there compared to how it was 17 years ago when Katrina hit?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Oh, without a doubt, yes, absolutely, there would be. I think that the local and the state government is far better prepared. The federal government, FEMA is better prepared. FEMA’s always gone into these types of incidents with what they call leaning forward, where they pre-stage assets and teams outside the hurricane zone so they can respond in quicker and be there faster to start setting up operations.

So both local, state and federal entities that would respond to a Hurricane Katrina-type of event, in the scenario you outlined, it would be handled much differently today and I think it would be far more successful than it was back in 2005.

Glynn Cosker: You mentioned earlier escape routes or evacuation routes and shelters and such. What can the everyday person do in order to know where those evacuation routes are and know where they should go if, God forbid, their house is demolished by the winds that are Category 4 or 5 or even a Category 1?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: That’s a great, great question, Glynn. Most communities have a government website where they can get information about their community, and they can visit the community’s website and look under emergency management. And it will show evacuation routes. It will show where shelter locations are.

Now, in many states that are prone to hurricane, a lot of the local weather news stations also in their either newspapers or on their television news have hurricane evacuation route maps they make available to the citizens to show where the locations for the shelters are, because not all shelters are the same. You may have a shelter that is better equipped for special needs people.

You may have shelters that are equipped to handle pets and animals. You’ll have shelters that really are just essentially nothing more than a gymnasium, and that really don’t have anything to offer aside from something that’s out of the weather. So it’s important that people understand their shelter locations is what they can handle.

Glynn Cosker: Indeed, and this question hass always popped into my mind. We’re talking about evacuation routes, but that’s making the assumption that everybody has a vehicle or at least a vehicle that works after or during a hurricane. Is there some public transportation, federal intervention there that can get people away from the danger zones quickly if they don’t have a vehicle?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Yes, there are. Communities that operate mass transit systems, buses and so forth, offer those types of services. A lot of the senior services agencies also provide that type of service. And some communities may also contract, and they may contract out to Uber or Lyft to provide those types of services to people to evacuate.

Glynn Cosker: Could you tell our listeners about how any storm, even a tropical storm, can cause havoc, even when it’s moving slowly over the land?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Sure. Well, Glynn, any system that dumps rain or precipitation, if the local community’s wastewater is inadequate or unable to handle the runoff, the water backs up and it can create flooding. It doesn’t have to be a hurricane, it can be a torrential afternoon rain. It can be a tropical storm like we get here in the south so often that moves fast and drops a lot of water, and if that water has nowhere to go, it’s going to back up. And the backup then can cause flooding. And that can create the problem where people can be trapped, and they need rescued because they have no way of getting through the water.

Glynn Cosker: And that is how most people, unfortunately, die during flooding is that they get in their car and think, well, I’ve got the big Jeep or whatever, and they take on that moving water – because people, their opinion is, well, I can do this, I can drive across this. This isn’t that bad, but it is that bad, and it can be that bad.

So I mean, what advice would you give to people if these people that do actually venture out and they get into trouble, God forbid, what is it that you’re supposed to do if you’re in a vehicle that gets swept away? Is there any kind of protocol that you can try to save yourself?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Well, sure. First, dissuade anybody from trying to drive a vehicle over any kind of moving water. It only takes 11 to 18 inches of water and it will sweep you away, just like you said. And once swept away, you become essentially part of the debris. And if you’re in the vehicle, the most important thing is to get out of the vehicle if you can. And once you’ve made it out of the vehicle, then it’s defensive.

You want to ride whatever the water is feet first, since you have some method of protecting your head, and try to get to an embankment as quickly as you can. The worst thing you can do is be trapped inside the car, particularly if it’s submerges, because then you don’t have any option at all. So I would urge people that are evacuating or driving and they see moving water over the roadway, stop. Don’t even attempt it, turn around and go the other way.

The running water’s just is just one of them. I mean, when the storm has gone through, people want to go out and see what damage has been done and what they don’t realize is there may be power lines down. You could easily unknowingly step on a power line, fall into perhaps a cistern or a well or something that’s been uncovered. There are so many things that can happen post storm.

If individuals are at their home and the storm has come through, certainly look out your door, make sure that your house is secure, and if it is secure and you have no other issues. Then that’s the time to get the family together, which you’ve already gotten together prior to the storm and start utilizing the 72 hours of equipment you have, so that you can ride out until you have rescuers come or you have people come to check on you.

Glynn Cosker: And speaking about that 72-hours worth of equipment, a lot of people are sometimes inadequately prepared. You mentioned some of the items that should be in the “Go Kit” and one of the ones that you mentioned was prescription medications, and that’s not necessarily something that people jump to right away. There’s also some other items that should be in that go kit that not too many people might think they should be. Is there anything that you can think of that should be included that most people would think, oh, well, that’s an unusual thing to include?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: First of all, a flyaway kit or a go kit, as you call it. Essentially, you want to be thinking as if you’re packing for a three-day vacation and everything you need on a three-day vacation, but you want to add additional items which include the prescription medications.

You want to make sure that you have any important papers in waterproof containers, so you either put them in Ziploc bags or in a sealed plastic container. And these include your passports, bank records, tax records and those kind of things because in flooding, or should some of that be swept away, it’s not like you can retrieve those records. The same with valuable photographs. You may have certain heirlooms or mementos that you don’t want to risk losing, so bag those as well.

You don’t necessarily include that in your flyaway kit or your to-go kit, but you want to have those things safe so that should flooding occur or should problems occur at the house that they’re not destroyed or lost. So really, those are the essential items. You really want to be prepared as if you had no assistance coming for three days. And that’s why in your home, sheltering in place is the best choice. If you can’t shelter in place and you go to a shelter, but sheltering in place, you have everything you need within your home to survive that 72-hour period.

It’s important your family get together. I can tell you that in my personal experience, I’ve got three grown daughters and four grandsons, and we’ve had all of them here when a hurricane’s threaten the Tampa area, and it’s not a party, but it’s more like, we’re all together. We all know we’re safe, we’re not in an evacuation zone. We pool our resources together so that we know that we could ride this thing out for up to three days if necessary because we have the non-perishable food items.

I’ve got a wonderful gas grill with a propane tank that’s full. If I lose electricity, where I can cook outside. I’ve got a great Yamaha generator that I can run that will run most important things like a radio or a small refrigerator. Won’t run an air conditioner, but it’ll run other things. So we know that we can be self-sustaining for at least three days.

Glynn Cosker: Why don’t you tell our listeners which types of disaster preparedness and emergency management professionals and volunteers you’d expect to be in the immediate area of a predicted landfall zone, and what should they be doing?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Well, first at the local community level, you’re going to have your emergency services personnel, your law enforcement, your fire and rescue people, your public works folks. People that keep the community running day to day, you’re going to have them ready. Fire stations, some of them may have sand and bags that individuals can go get sandbags to sandbag some of their houses or their properties.

Police officers are going to be looking and setting up areas where you can’t drive through because the potential for flooding. You’re also going to have, emergency management’s going to have their community response teams available as well, and they’ll be on standby should they be needed when a storm comes. And of course, part of that, a lot of people don’t realize is that those emergency services workers, the fire and rescue, the medical people, the law enforcement and the CERT members, all have families in the communities also.

So, they have to prepare their homes and their families just like everyone else does. But they also have to be ready to leave their families to take care of all of us. So that’s an extra added concern that they have. So that’s what you’re going to see locally.

Statewide, you’re going to see statewide mutual aid agreements starting to work, where if a storm is going to hit a certain part of the state, assets and assistance will come from other parts of the state. And they will pre-stage and they’ll stage in communities that are outside the stricken area, ready to respond into the area after the storm or after the disaster passes.

Federally, you’re going to have FEMA setting up instant command teams as well as response teams. They’ll be staging at different places around the state, or outside of the state, ready to respond in as well. So in a sense, Glynn, what you have is you have a three tier support structure, local, state, and federal, ready to move in once the storm is cleared or once the disasters happen to start setting up the instant management process and start setting up shelter and aid locations for people that need assistance.

Glynn Cosker: It’s interesting, of course, because you mentioned obviously the local authorities and it starts there. I mean, every emergency response starts with the local community. But when you look at a map of the US that could be affected by the Atlantic Coast hurricane season, I mean, we’re talking anywhere really from New York or even New England, but that would be unusual. But the states, Southern Virginia and then the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, if it comes into the Gulf, Louisiana, Texas.

Now, there’s a lot of local authorities in those states that I just mentioned, and towns and cities that lie on the coast or near the coast. So what you’re saying then is that every place that could be affected should have the correct local authorities in place should a hurricane hit. I mean, is that true of every community?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Yeah, that is true. What you have to remember too, Glynn, is that the states that are hurricane prone, we go through this exercise every year when hurricane season starts. The governors of those states are also diligent in knowing when hurricane season is. Local government is also aware, emergency services is aware.

To say that a community is not prepared for a hurricane in this day and age really is anachronistic. I mean, honestly, communities are prepared now. They may lack the resources that other larger communities may have, but here again, this is where the state governors come into play, and they start working through their fire chiefs, police chiefs associations, and start moving in mutual aid to handle any kind of an evacuation or a rescue effort that it may be needed but the local community doesn’t have.

Glynn Cosker: So it’s a team effort.

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Totally.

Glynn Cosker: When you think about a hurricane, like I said, you do have some lead time to prepare. And those governors of the states that you said, they’re prepared, FEMA’s prepared, the local authority is prepared, but think about tornadoes, that is a whole different scenario. And it’s interesting. I mean, perhaps we could talk about that, the Tornado Alley area of the United States. There’s no two week lead up or a chart telling you where it’s going to hit. It just happens, and that’s a whole different ball game.

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Completely different. You think of a hurricane in terms of a strategy that you could develop, because a strategy takes a little bit longer to put in into place, and you have that time to develop that strategy because the storm may take four or five days to reach where the projected path is. Tornadoes are much different. They can spin up in a moment’s notice and create havoc and damage across a wide area.

You’re using Tornado Alley as an example. I don’t think there’s any state in the country that’s not had an incident in the past where tornadoes created vast damage. This is why local weather is so important in the National Weather Service and their Doppler radar stations around the country, because Doppler radar, of course, is the radar that can spot the spinning vortex or can find out where areas are prone to have tornadic activity.

And if you think back to the emergency broadcast networking and system that’s been around for many, many years, a lot of times they’ll utilize the emergency broadcast network to let people know of a tornado watch or a tornado warning. In case of a tornado, you don’t have the time really to plan for it, you just have to react to it. And by reacting, I grew up in the Midwest and remember tornadoes quite well in the annual tornado activity we would have in Indiana and having to spend a lot of time in the basements because the tornadoes were spinning.

It’s no different now, today. Shelter’s important. Knowing your surrounding areas important, be weather wise, they call it. Understand that if you’re in a storm system or if you’re in a system or have a system that’s close to you that has the potential to create tornadic activity, to be aware and be prepared for it.

Glynn Cosker: I agree a 100%. And you used the term weather wise, and it brought an interesting thought into my head, because you and I are of the same generation. We remember, obviously, having just a few TV channels, and not many cable channels.

So being weather wise these days, not too many of our younger generation, and I don’t want to just point at the younger generation, but because even I don’t have cable anymore, most of the time I watch Netflix or Hulu or whatever’s streaming, and there’s no interruption of that. There’s no alert system that interrupts Netflix like it would if you were watching something on a cable network, a local network or a cable box.

Now, you mentioned the National Alert System, which has been in place for a long time, and I remember them happening when I used to watch TV on a cable box, local TV. But what about the people that don’t?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: It’s not a bad idea for people to actually purchase a weather radio or have capability of listing into the weather radio services if they don’t have a TV that say has local news broadcasts. Because again, it’s just another measure or preparedness and safety that you’re building into your system by having these types of the capabilities.

Glynn Cosker: And I’ve had firsthand experience with those weather radio devices. My in-laws have one, and we spent some time with them over the summer. And I have to say, if it doesn’t get your attention, I’d be surprised. I mean, this thing, it beeped and whooped and whooped and whooped, and then it gave you some very detailed information about what to expect in your area.

Those sort of things should be up there as being essential on a house the same way as a stove is, in my opinion, especially for people who live in areas that are prone to tornadoes, and where I live, blizzards and hurricanes, of course, is what we’re talking about is our main topic

Let’s just swing back to, we were talking about proactively preparing for a hurricane hitting, and we talked about there being local authority there and then the state with the governor and the federal level with FEMA. And that’s proactively preparing. But let’s talk about what happens afterwards. What are those same emergency personnel doing during their immediate aftermath of a major hurricane hitting their area?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: What they’re doing is they’re doing what’s called damage assessments. And each one of the fire station location or law enforcement, public works, for example, will have what’s known as a strike team. And a strike team will consist of road and street people, law enforcement, emergency medical, it may have a dump truck, definitely have a fire truck, perhaps, a rescue unit.

And this task force, or this strike team I should say, will then venture out into their area and start doing damage assessments. They’ll look for roads that are blocked, they’ll look for areas that don’t have power. They’ll look for areas that maybe are flooded. They’ll start doing street clearing. They’ll be reporting back to the emergency operations center, who is the nerve center for what’s happening in that community. And they’ll have a snapshot of what areas require assistance and what areas don’t require assistance.

And then areas that require more assistance, they can then dispatch or they can assign those additional units to help assist the people that maybe are trapped, that need high water rescue, that perhaps have to have boats to come in and get them out. That’s what you’re going to see post storm.

Glynn Cosker: And you’ve been there and done that. Just so our listeners know, I mean, you’ve been part of those teams. Could you tell us off the top of your head some of the hurricanes that you’ve dealt with or been at the disaster zone?

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Absolutely. Sure. Well, Hurricane Andrew, of course, was part of a team that went down into Miami-Homestead area after a Hurricane Andrew came through. The devastation was beyond words. And for a person that’s not from that area and is unfamiliar with the road networks and streets down there, you remember that there were no street signs left. They were all blown down. So a lot of communications was done via VH radio, hand-to-hand walkie talkies. A lot of effort went into that. A lot of folks that required rescue during Andrew Hurricane.

Hurricane Opal, it was a ’95, up in the Florida Panhandle. We had quite a bit of like Hurricane Michael was couple years ago on the Panhandle, a lot of flooding. We had to set up comfort stations, we called them. We actually utilized the Florida Air National Guard, one of their helicopter units to fly rapid impact, called RIAT teams, Rapid Impact Assessment Teams, to fly up and down the Gulf Coast to look for areas that we could use as not only shelter locations, but also to pre-stage equipment for the long-term care.

Katrina, another example. I spent three weeks in Katrina doing aeromedical evacuation. Some 20,000 aeromedical rescues were accomplished, when those include not just to helicopters from the roofs, but also included lifting people out of Louis Armstrong International Airport on 130 Hercules Aircraft as well at Belle Chasse Naval Air Station. And I did that as a young Air Force captain. I was sent up there to deal with that.

So pretty much anybody who’s listening to the podcast, who’s ever been involved in emergency services, ever been involved in a weather type of emergency can relate to a lot of what I said. Because essentially, the work is the same. It’s just the geography is somewhat different. And it’s a very humbling experience.

Glynn Cosker: And Chris, I think we can wrap things up right there. It’s been an interesting and important discussion as always, and on behalf of the university and our listeners, I’d like to thank you very much for joining me today.

Dr. Chris Reynolds: Thank you, Glynn. It was my pleasure. Always enjoy chatting with you.

Glynn Cosker: Likewise. That was a Dr. Christopher Reynolds, my guest today. I’m Glynn Cosker. Thank you for listening, and please join me for future podcasts. Until then, farewell and stay safe.

Glynn Cosker is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. In addition to his background in journalism, corporate writing, web and content development, Glynn served as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the British Embassy located in Washington, D.C. Glynn is located in New England.

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