April 29, 2020

Storm Season Is Coming: 4 Ways You Can Prepare Today

Resilience Infographic

While impacts of the novel coronavirus are reaching every corner of the globe, there is another risk coming in right behind it – the season of storms, fires and floods. This season also creates conditions that promote insect vectors that spread disease and viruses. The official start to Hurricane Season is a month away. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  predicts an active season – with 16 named storms and four major hurricanes1. Communities in the South – in Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Louisiana have already experienced tornadoes and heavy storms. Significant fire potential is expected in the northwest and west coast2 aggravated by continuous drought.  

The crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is so utterly enormous, so catastrophic, so disorienting -- most of us can’t even stomach the idea of another disaster, but the reality is the storm season is coming-there is great potential for the pandemic quarantine to extend into storm season--therefore it is imperative extreme steps are taken to prepare communities and housing.  An active storm and disaster season will inevitably tax those already struggling for a social and economic safety net. It may strand many communities that are literally to survive the Covid-19 pandemic.However, there are things we can do today to prepare our nation, our communities and those most at risk for when those storms hit. 

To mitigate the health risk, communities should:

  1. Ready emergency and temporary housing with adequate protective measures. Many temporary housing facilities are often used for a long time and have to adapt to a range of conditions and need to be able to adapt. Work with medical practitioners and design professionals to ensure temporary housing is designed or retrofit with the following qualities: 
    • Easy to assemble self-isolation wall partition systems to ensure individuals that are evacuated from homes are able to self-quarantine in temporary quarters safely. 
    • Adequate natural passive recirculating ventilation to maintain air quality by ensuring adequate venting and operable windows to support air quality and occupant health3.
    • Formaldehyde and VOC-free products installed to reduce toxins and chemical outgassing that can impair occupant health. 
    • Sufficient sealing around exterior openings and chases, roofing and foundation to reduce occurance of mold and mildew which impairs air quality and impact occupant health. 
  2. Secure sufficient backup supplies to critical facilities and homes. In every leading disaster the first systems to fail are power and water supply--within the context of covid, having critical power backup to communities is critical to ensure patients have life support necessary. 
    • An average ventilator which needs between 38-70w to operate with continuous power source, as well as communications systems, and refrigeration for medicines.  Many ventilators come equipped with batteries but it is critical know which one is the primary battery and which is the backup battery4
    • Increase the amount of protective gear immediately to ensure that responders and volunteers and community members are protected from the virus-- nose and mouth and hand. Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) should face shields, gloves, goggles and glasses, gowns, head covers, masks, respirators, and shoe covers5
    • Increase the availability of equipment such as generators, pumps, debris removal machinery to ensure that there is sufficient capacity to move debris and water out of communities as both create conditions for vector development such as mosquitos. 
  3. Engage the Volunteer Organizations Active In Disaster (VOAD) network to design supply needs. In advance of event work with community responders including faith network, civic organizations and other mission driven organizations to assess critical life safety needs in communities and identify a way to procure supplies in advance of a natural hazard event.  
  4. Button up housing deficiencies. In many communities struck by Hurricanes Maria, Irma and Michael and earthquakes--structures are still damaged and will need to be waterproofed before storm season is in place. Any evident cracks and holes should be sealed, roofs tied down and foundations fortified so that additional damage does not occur--and to prevent water infiltration which is a major source of vector and health impacts. Average cost of weathization is $6,5006. In addition to protecting the home from flooding, “weatherizing” a home can also yield financial benefits by reducing cooling and heating usage. 

As severe as the upcoming season will be, mitigating risk to properties and occupants is a critical investment to preserve  and protect communities from the ravages of natural hazards. If there is one certain fact we know is, we will continue to face extreme natural hazard events year after year and it’s not a question if-we have to build our immunity to risks by preparing in advance and forecasting strategically how to mitigate and adapt. Because it's not a matter of if, it’s only a matter of when. 

Read Keep Safe, a Guide for Resilient Housing Design and Construction in Island Communities for more ideas.

1https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/2020-04-01-2020-atlantic-hurricane-season-april-outlook “The group led by Dr. Phil Klotzbach calls for 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes. A major hurricane is one that is Category 3 or higher (115-plus-mph winds) on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.”

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