I have often said that the battle against the hurricane is won outside the hurricane season. Florida emergency managers understand that and do hurricane planning year around. This week a Catastrophic Planning Workshop is being held in Orlando as part of the Florida Catastrophic Planning Project, a joint effort between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Florida Division of Emergency Management. This is the sixth major workshop held so far under the project.
The Florida Catastrophic Planning Project is driven by a planning scenario known as Hurricane Ono. This is a fictional, but plausible, Category 5 hurricane that makes landfall just north of Fort Lauderdale. The storm travels across the state, maintaining Category 4 strength as it passes over Lake Okeechobee. The storm surge on the lake along with tornadoes spawned by the hurricane result in breaches of the Herbert Hoover Dike near Clewiston, Pahokee and Belle Glade. Ono continues across the state and exits into the Gulf of Mexico near St. Petersburg. Once over the Gulf, Ono regains strength, turns north, and makes a second landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on the Gulf coast between Mobile and Pensacola.
Preliminary models show that Ono would prompt an evacuation of nearly three million residents, put much of South Florida under 1-4+ feet of water for weeks, destroy homes of more than 70 percent of the population, leave six million people without electricity, and cripple the state’s transportation infrastructure.
The catastrophic planning process promotes communication and builds stronger relationships among Federal, state, local, and tribal agencies and non-governmental organizations that are critical in an effective unified response and recovery.
I have heard Florida’s Director of Emergency Management, Craig Fugate, say that most people plan for what they can manage. Director Fugate believes that it is smarter to plan for the catastrophe and then scale back as appropriate. This is good advice for individuals as well as emergency managers.