Tuesday, April 22, 2008

National Hurricane Conference

The National Hurricane Conference was held the first week of April at the Rosen Center in Orlando. I attended as a part of my job as an emergency manager for the state of Florida. The Conference last year, which I also attended, was held in New Orleans, La.

What was remarkable about this year's conference was the contrasts, the simultaneous feeling that so much has been improved since Hurricane Katrina and yet so many problems remain unchanged. The unfortunate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was displayed on television and in numerous other media accounts as well as multiple after action reviews by the White House, the Congress, and other agencies. Congress thoroughly examined the mistakes that were made and attempted to correct them in the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, which was passed by Congress and signed in law by President Bush on October 4, 2006.

The emergency management community at the local, state and federal levels has been extremely busy implementing this law since it was passed. We are still not finished. The reason we aren't finished is due to the breadth and complexity of the changes that were implemented. Secondly, FEMA had to develop, test and implement a lot of new programs to comply with this act. Once these programs were developed, the state and local emergency management had to modify their emergency plans to incorporate these new federal strategies. In the last year I have been extremely busy coordinating, updating and writing emergency plans.

In many ways we are better prepared to handle the next catastrophe. Unfortunately, in many areas we, as a nation, are not. As hard as it might be to forget the terrible images of Hurricane Katrina many of the public have been able to do so. Two straight hurricane seasons without a major impact on the United States has allowed complacency to reinstate itself as king of emergency management in many of our communities. One good example came from the insurance industry presentation. In Mississippi in 2006 the number of flood insurance policies writen in 2006, the year after Katrina, was up by 39%. By 2007, however, most of those new policies were allowed to lapse.

The emergency management community is much better prepared now that we were in 2003. We had a lot of practice in 2004 and 2005, and we've done a lot of written a lot of new plans in 2006 and 2007. But like any other industry, there has been a turnover in experienced people. The State Emergency Response Team in Florida that did such a great job of responding to Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi and then Hurricane Wilma in south Florida is taking the field this hurricane season with a lot of new faces.

Regardless of how prepared we are,if the citizens don't do their part to get a plan and be prepared, then the next big disaster could result in more needless suffering.