Don’t fall for ‘hurricane amnesia’
By Lewis Diuguid
The Kansas City Star
Although its start has been rather tame so far, this year’s hurricane season because of the population shift to coastal areas and climate change could potentially be quite serious and costly in property damage and lives.
The U.S. Census Bureau notes that the continuing population increase in coastal areas and climate change underscore the importance of emergency planning and preparedness.
It has been 11 years since the U.S. has been struck by a major hurricane. It has caused some emergency preparedness officials to fear that “hurricane amnesia” has developed in the population most affected; in other words, people have forgotten or – because of migration – never knew what to do when the danger arises.
Last year four hurricanes developed in the Atlantic Ocean. Seven named storms failed to materialize into hurricanes. There are 185 coastline counties along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico that are most at risk by Atlantic hurricanes.
Near 60 million people in the U.S. coastline counties as of July 1, 2015, from Maine to Texas could be affected by a hurricane. In 2006, the population was only 54.5 million in those same areas.
The coastal county land area from Maine to Texas that could be affected by a hurricane is 750,919 square miles. That includes 3,700 miles of coastline.
Coastal states from Maine to Texas have 60.1 million housing units, which represents 44.9 percent of U.S. housing units. In 2006, there were only 56.5 million housing units in those areas.
In 2013, there were 3.3 million businesses in coastal states from Maine to Texas with 52.3 million paid workers. Being prepared for hurricanes, however, is getting lost in the day-to-day strain of just living.
The census reports that only 51.5 percent of U.S. homes have a prepared emergency evacuation kit. In the Miami and Tampa areas, the level of preparedness increases to about 70 percent of households.
Nearly 70 percent of people said they would likely stay with relatives or friends during a two-week evacuation to be in a safe place at least 50 miles away; 18.1 percent said they would stay in a hotel or motel, and 4.1 percent said they would retreat to a public shelter.
Only 18.3 percent of single-family homes have a generator as a backup if the electricity goes out in a storm. The census notes that 77.5 percent of occupied housing units have a building number clearly visible.
People forget that 2005 was one of the busiest for Atlantic hurricane storms. Twenty-eight storms formed. Despite preseason forecasts for an active hurricane season, 2013 saw the fewest Atlantic hurricanes since 1982.
Fourteen became named storms, but only two became hurricanes. No hurricanes and only one tropical storm, Andrea, made landfall in the U.S. in 2013, causing one fatality.
It would be great to have a repeat of that year.