August 22, 2001
The next 6 weeks or so will see the peak of the hurricane season along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Barry and Chantal may just have been nature's warm-up pitches, and the odds are fair that a serious storm could strike some heavily populated area in this part of the US. Hurricane Floyd, which killed some 57 people and caused billions in damage in mid-September 1999, was a reminder that hurricanes can wreak havoc far inland via torrential rains and flooding. Hurricane guru William Gray predicts storm activity will be above average this year, with a 69% probability of a major hurricane striking land somewhere along the coast.
Journalists can do their audiences a service even before hurricanes strike by taking a fresh look at hurricane preparedness and weather disaster prevention in their communities. The Pensacola News Journal has published a great example here. Check in with your local police, fire, and public safety agencies to cultivate sources before an emergency develops.
What hurricane disaster plans have already been implemented by local and state governments? Are those plans up-to-date and adequate? What should the public know about them? Are roads and bridges adequate for evacuation?
What should coastal residents be doing to prepare for a hurricane? Structural protection? Survival supplies? Communication methods? Evacuation plans?
How much do your community's building and zoning codes do to minimize potential storm damage? Is building in vulnerable coastal areas and floodplains discouraged? Are houses built or retrofitted with "hurricane straps" to hold down roofs?