The Challenge of Developing Situational Awareness During Hurricane Disasters—Part Two: Consequences (Or the “So What?”)

Author: Jim Weldin, Senior Emergency Planner, IEM

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on hurricane analysis. Part 1, “Determining the What,” dealt with anticipating the impact of a tropical system. We discussed various tools and projections used by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management to predict the potential impact of a tropical system. This post focuses on consequence management.

Historical data on the impact of past storms was useful in projecting potential consequences in New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy. In addition, FEMA, through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), provided maps of flood-prone areas and historical data on property flooding insurance claims as part of its mission to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures. GIS mapping helped emergency managers define facilities most at risk, including key residences and businesses; hospitals and schools; and critical infrastructure, such as power plants, water/wastewater treatment facilities, and police, fire, and emergency medical service (EMS) stations.

Analysis of these essential elements of information helped emergency managers determine overall potential storm impact and develop consequence management solutions like when to order evacuations, how many people would potentially evacuate, and how many shelters would be needed.

Less than 48 hours prior to landfall, as the forecast solidified, analysis revealed a significant concern about the state’s barrier islands, a thin inhabited strip now projected to be completely flooded due to storm surge. Mandatory evacuations were urged—as was the movement of police, fire, and EMS equipment projected to be destroyed in the flood surge. Subject-matter experts from the energy sector projected a potential loss of power to 3 million customers, which meant weeks would be needed to restore power. This translated into a significant requirement for generators and the need to address a severe shortage of fuel.

In conclusion, based on all the various projections for the entire area expected to be impacted by Hurricane Sandy, decision makers could develop consequence management solutions well ahead of time, recommending a series of actions intended to mitigate the potential impact of the storm. Evacuations were ordered, shelters were opened, assets in danger were moved, and projected resource needs were pre-positioned.

In Part 3 of this series, we’ll explore how Hurricane Sandy actually did impact New Jersey and the next steps in response.

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