The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was catastrophic. The season featured 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes – ranking it as the fifth-most active season in history. It was also the costliest season on record, with a total of at least $282 billion in damages, the majority of which was caused by the devastating storms, Harvey, Irma and Maria. These storms displaced hundreds of thousands of people, brought down key public infrastructure and created resource shortages. Hurricane Harvey dropped a record 51.88 inches of rainfall near Highland, Texas and Irma was the longest-lasting powerful hurricane or typhoon ever recorded, sustaining 185-mph winds for 37 hours.
Unfortunately, researchers have predicted that 2018 will not provide a reprieve for regions that are particularly susceptible to the Atlantic hurricane season. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the forecast for this year’s season predicts “above normal” activity and a 70 percent likelihood of more than 10 named storms. Already, Subtropical Storm Alberto was reported to have caused over $50 million in damages over Memorial Day weekend.
With an emphasis on lessons learned from 2017, as well the noted activity during Alberto, the Everbridge Customer Success team has released new critical event management and emergency messaging recommendations, guidelines and tips that organizations should incorporate into their hurricane readiness and preparedness plans. The 2018 hurricane season preparedness best practices include:
- Confirm System Access: Make sure that all users can log into your critical communications system, and that they have the right access to send notifications. Also, ensure that former employees are removed from your system and that access for users on leave is disabled.
- Message Construction: In an emergency, messages should be clear and concise. It is recommended that you adhere to the 3-3-30 guideline (a message should contain no more than 3 main points, in 3 short sentences, using fewer than 30 words).
- Contact Data Quality: The start of hurricane season is the right time to remind citizens to sign up for your community messages. When a resident subscribes, it supports a more complete and accurate profile of that person, including home phone, mobile phone, SMS, email, and locations that are important to them.
- Perform Testing and Training: To support adoption for recipients and ease of access for message senders, you will want to send test messages to maintain familiarity with the system and to practice message building. Use a severe weather event as an opportunity to provide your contacts (residents and/or employees, customers, and other stakeholders) with preparedness information, similar to information found at https://ready.gov.
- FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS): During a severe weather emergency, it’s extremely helpful to have access to IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System), so if infrastructure fails and land lines are not an option, you know you can at least get a one-way message to residents’ mobile devices, or anyone near the event.
- Share the URL for the Local Emergency Alert Opt-in Page: Use the news, radio, social media and printed materials to actively promote your system to the public.
- Tracking the Safety of Care-Dependent Residents: During a hurricane, your care-dependent citizens are at an elevated risk. They may not be able to evacuate and may need to stay close to treatment. Coordinate regularly with your health department to understand where you at risk population is located, how they can be reached and what their special needs may be.
During Alberto, many organizations and communities located across the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi leveraged the Everbridge platform to communicate critical safety information to residents and employees.
“Jefferson County has long relied on Everbridge as our notification system to keep our community members safe and informed during severe weather events,” said Jim Coker, Director, Jefferson County, Alabama Emergency Management Agency. “During this most recent weather event, Alberto, we leveraged Everbridge to assess the path and severity of the storm, and then issued notifications to key county stakeholders and leaders, including medical officials, universities, Police and Fire Chiefs, and School Superintendents so that they could make critical decisions to keep employees and residents safe over the course of the weekend.”
In 2017, Everbridge was also critical to alerting and response efforts during Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria. In Florida, for example, the statewide emergency notification program, AlertFlorida, is powered by Everbridge and managed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM). Throughout the course of Hurricane Irma Everbridge sent over 20 million messages, including evacuation and flood warnings, storm surge notices, traffic information, generator safety guidelines, shelter recommendations and special needs assistance alerts. Likewise, during Hurricane Harvey, Everbridge was used across the states of Texas and Louisiana.
“During Hurricane Harvey we understood our staff had grown too large for some of our more primitive forms of emergency communication, such as a calling tree,” said Ramit Plushnick-Masti, Director of Communications/PIO, Houston Forensics Science Center. “Since it is a priority for us to ensure our staff’s safety and share information during such situations, immediately after Harvey we started looking for a tool that would streamline our communication. Everbridge provided an easy-to-use, broad-based platform and system which was responsive to our needs and was already being used by others in our region. Now we are confident we are well-prepared to keep our staff informed in the event of an emergency, including the upcoming hurricane season.”
For more critical event management and messaging best practices, and information on how Everbridge can help, access the “Safety Communications During Severe Weather” Tip Sheet here.