Hurricane Andrew in 1992 taught a lot of lessons. One of those lessons was that government needed to improve hurricane plans. For several years after Hurricane Andrew, one of my assignments while working at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was to prepare mock hurricane exercises for use in Florida Hurricane Exercises. Joe Myers was the Director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management (DEM) in those days, and I can still remember Joe saying over and over that “you play like you practice.” I’m pleased to see that Florida and the NHC have continued these exercises.
This afternoon, Dave Halstead, the Interim Deputy Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, sent an email to exercise particpants detailing what worked well and challenges yet to be solved that came out of this year’s Statewide Hurricane “Suiter” Exercise.
The Hurricane “Suiter” Exercise was patterned after the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. Our Local 10 Hurricane Special which aired on May 26th included highlights of the 1926 hurricane that made landfall in Miami as a Category 4. Catastrophic plans and operations were tested by local, state and Federal partners during this year’s exercise which took place from May 28th through June 3rd. All 18 emergency support functions and 67 county emergency management agencies participated to some extent during the exercise.
Interim DEM Deputy Director Halstead praised the county partners for their participation in the exercise as well as the participation of many of the private sector partners. Halstead said there was more Federal participation this year than ever before. Training for new staff was hugely successful and FEMA has agreed to continue funding for catastrophic planning. Most of all, I like the way Dave Halstead ended his email – “Failure is not an Option.”
The figure below shows the tropical storm and hurricane force wind swaths of Hurricane Suiter. Tropical storm force winds are in yellow, hurricane force winds in red, and major hurricane force winds in magenta.
Remember, this track is based on a hurricane that actually happened back in 1926. The NHC’s cost estimate of this hurricane, after accounting for inflation, population and wealth is around $165 billion in today’s dollars. A disaster like this would have a devastating effect on the economy of the State of Florida, if not the nation, especially during the current economic downturn our state and nation are experiencing.
This year’s exercise was named after Lacy Suiter, a well respected former state emergency management director and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) leader who is widely considered one of the fathers of modern emergency management. Mr. Suiter was a key force in forming FEMA in the 1970s and he played a large role in the agency’s revival in the 1900s. I remember Mr. Suiter sitting in my office at NHC and giving FEMA’s support to the Hurricane Liaison Team which is a real success story and is still in use today. Mr. Suiter passed away on August 8, 2006, but he left behind a strong legacy and path for the emergency management profession to follow.
It is encouraging to see government at the local, state and Federal levels plan and exercise for a catastrophic hurricane. But all that planning will be to no avail unless individuals take that personal responsibility and do their part to be prepared.