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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Are Hurricane Categories Citizen Friendly? And Does Media Give Too Much Attention To ‘Hurricane Holdouts’ Rather Than Those Who Follow Warnings?

July 1st, 2009 · 1 Comment

In last week’s “Homeland Security Inside & Out” radio show, Amanda Ripley, author of The Unthinkable, had some interesting criticisms of how authorities currently warn people on impending hurricanes:

*In response to questions from interviewer Dave McIntyre, Ripley said a fundamental problem is that the way we inform citizens of hurricane threats is “flawed. It’s not a good warning system” noting that the Saffir-Simpson scale (categories 1-5) doesn’t address storm surge, only wind. That’s in large part because storm surge can be variable throughout the same area. “If this is a warning system designed for the public. it should be designed for the public. It should include storm surge…Emergency warnings are written for emergency officials. They’re written for scientists.” Ripley added: “They’re looking for perfection” because of storm surge variability, but “the public doesn’t need perfection.” (She noted that the World Health Organization’s pandemic alert system had a similar public understanding problem since it is based on geographic spread not the severity of the illness.)

*In the interview, Ripley also pointed out that new FEMA head Craig Fugate commented recently in a speech said that media puts too much attention (almost reward) ‘hurricane holdouts’ who have to be rescued rather than focusing on those ‘more responsible’ citizens who do whatever they need to do to evacuate (sometimes at great effort and expense) and therefore relieve the burden on first responders and taxpayers.

*She said that though we want to hold people accountable for preparedness and response during hurricanes if “we’re giving warnings that don’t make any sense” then it is more difficult to expect everyone to do the right thing.

*One solution, according to Ripley, is that authorities need to “write the warnings for the public. And you know the way you do that? Have the public at the table…then you have sort of an ombudsman there who can help you prevent these mistakes.”

I think Amanda is right on, as usual. You can listen to the full interview at the beginning of the podcast of Homeland Security Inside & Out here. (Btw, let me once again recommend the show to anyone interested in any aspect of homeland security. As I’ve written before, I learn at least one thing that informs my work in every week’s show.)

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Tags: Hurricane Preparedness

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