Preparing for This Year's Hurricane Season

As we approach the start of the official Atlantic hurricane season, June 1 to November, how prepared are you and your department? It is not too late to start to prepare, better now than when the first hurricane of the season starts heading your way.

Hurricanes are one of the few emergencies that give you an advance notice before they occur, as opposed to no-notice events such as an earthquake. Today, the start of a hurricane can be tracked from its earliest forming across the Atlantic Ocean. Current technology and tracking systems can give over a week s notice of the potential of a hurricane forming.

A good place to start planning for hurricanes is to review any existing emergency operations plans you may have. If you do not have any current plans, you can do a web search for a sample or actual plan. There is no need to start planning from scratch; you may also ask if you can review an existing plan from a neighboring department. Your local or state Office of Emergency Management (OEM) may also have a sample plan that you can customize for your needs. Your local OEM can also help you writing and reviewing your plan.

Do not conduct your planning in a vacuum; coordinate with your fire department and public works or highway department. The days of operating in your own world without coordination with other organizations are history. Other agencies are also important, but these two departments will most certainly be used whether the storm is a tropical depression or a major hurricane. Not only will the fire department be responding along with the police department to emergencies, the police will work in conjunction with public works assisting in debris removal, floods and mudslides. You can also coordinate with them in the purchasing and stockpiling of emergency supplies.

Supplies will also be needed for repairs to the police vehicles after the hurricane. Whether your fleet is serviced by your agency s own motor pool or by private contractor, repairs will be needed. Some of the most common problems will be punctured tires from the debris on the roadway and flooded vehicles. When patrol vehicles are driven through deep water–especially salt water–wheel bearing, drive train differentials, etc. often have to be disassembled and cleaned out.

Coordinate with you local American Red Cross office, as they are responsible for emergency shelters. Even thought FEMA now has the lead for Emergency Support Function #6 under the new National Response Framework, the Red Cross will be doing the actual running of the shelters. Law enforcement, whether it be your agency, mutual aid, corrections, etc. will be needed to provide security. These staffing issues have to be identified and resolved during the planning process. Verify the locations of shelters that would be activated and what police presence is required. Speaking of shelters, does your Department have a designated safe room or shelter in the event of your building being in the direct path of a hurricane, or a tornado that often develops in a hurricane? Unfortunately, not all police buildings are modern, reinforced structures, and therefore, are very susceptible to the forces of nature.

The time to prepare and plan for any emergency is well before it occurs, not when the storm is upon you. Even though you may not be located along the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, your location still could be seriously impacted by a hurricane. Some of the worst wind damage and flooding that occurred in recent storms along the Atlantic Ocean was not along the coast, but hundreds of miles inland in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Not only should your agency be preparing, but what about your family? One of the many problems that officers who are working any type of local disaster deal with is the uncertainty of the welfare of their own families. Since most lines of communication might be down and you may not be able to return home, how do you know if your family is coping with the storm? Knowing in advance that your family is prepared and well taken care of will allow you to perform your duties with one less thing to worry about.

Here are some guidelines for preparing for the Hurricane Season:

Before the Start of the Hurricane Season

  • Update and verify department recall rosters
  • Check your family s emergency plan, contacts and supplies
  • Review plans for additional tasks during storms, such as shelter security
  • Check and order supplies of road flares, batteries, bottled water and food
  • Check community notification systems, such as warning sirens, websites and communitywide telephone notification systems
  • Have emergency generators checked, serviced and fueled up, at HQ and remote locations
  • Advise the community on how they will be advised of emergency information such as local media, websites, telephone notification systems, etc.
  • Remind citizens not to call 9-1-1 for information
  • Check alternate communications systems; amateur radio and satellite telephones
  • Plastic trash bags, restroom supplies and water for sanitary purposes at Police facilities. You will be your own cleaning service during the hurricane
  • Check on temporary stop signs, either in place or have ready in inventory

24 Hours Before the Hurricane

  • Fuel all police vehicles
  • Start departmental recall of extra officers
  • Start recall of additional Communications staff, including volunteers
  • Begin extra patrols and staffing of shelters, etc.
  • Go to full activation of Emergency Operations Center, EOC
  • Continue to monitor weather reports; TV, radio, Internet, Teletype

During Hurricane, Landfall

  • Only respond to serious calls, if weather conditions permit
  • No response to burglar alarms and other events most likely storm-related
  • No self-initiated activity for minor offenses
  • Keep all members in HQ, off the road, during height of storm if conditions warrant it

Post Storm

  • Respond to emergencies
  • Prioritize pending calls for service
  • Traffic control at major intersections if traffic lights are out, officer or temporary Stop Sign
  • Assist with utility companies and Public Works with downed wires, road debris removal, etc.
  • Assist with damage assessment reports
  • Document all costs for possible financial recovery

By following the principles of all-hazards planning, the efforts put forth for hurricane planning can also be used for other events. By preparing for hurricanes before they arrive, you and your agency will be in a much better position to assist your community in the event the next big one makes landfall in your town.

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