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Emergency notification priorities after a hurricane

Hurricane Irene pummeled the East Coast leaving a path of death and destruction that has made it the third-deadliest hurricane to hit the U.S. since 1980, behind only Hurricanes Floyd and Katrina. After a major disaster it’s always interesting to see how it stacked up to previous events to help us better understand the impact of what we experienced firsthand or witnessed through television, newspapers and the Internet. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Irene was the first to hit the United States since Hurricane Ike struck Texas in September 2008 and it was the first to threaten the New York City area since Hurricane Gloria in September 1985. And although there have been many stories written about how the media over-reported Irene, government officials across the affected areas would quickly disagree.

In addition to the Hurricane which arrived mid-week, the earthquake that rocked the East Coast on Tuesday kicked off a busy week for the CodeRED system which was used by Mayors, Police Chiefs and Emergency Managers in hundreds of communities related to these weather events. The system was activated in states as far north as Maine and as far west as Ohio. With hundreds of jobs running simultaneously on the system, hundreds of thousands of citizens were provided with valuable information by their local government. By looking at emergency notification usage during Hurricane Irene and following the earthquake, it’s obvious that keeping citizens safe and informed was of paramount importance in our client communities.

Here’s a quick review of important uses of a mass notification system following a natural disaster.

Life Safety Information: Often injuries and deaths occur after storms due to carelessness and lack of public education and awareness. Safety messages should be disseminated to the public periodically warning of the dangers that they will be facing and how to safely go about cleaning up their property and neighborhood. Carbon monoxide poisoning, chainsaw accidents, electrocutions and careless use of matches and candles are major contributors to the steep rise in injuries and deaths following a weather event. The use of emergency notification during this time is paramount.

Damage Assessment Gathering: Utilizing mass notification to ask the public to report areas throughout the region that received destruction will assist in determining where Damage Assessment Teams need to survey. It should also capture human needs segments that require immediate attention.

Recovery and Re-Entry Information: Recovery and re-entry plans will depend on the amount of devastation that impacted the area. Informing the public what the plan is for the community will be a work in progress daily. Mass notification can assist in delivering these messages directly to citizens.

Update Victim Services Information: Keep citizens updated with pertinent disaster assistance information such as shelter facilities, mass feeding locations, family assistance locations, POD locations, etc.

Public Assistance Information: Should the jurisdiction receive a Federal Disaster Declaration which provides FEMA and SBA assistance to citizens, the Emergency Manager will need to employ every means of public notification available to disseminate this information. Citizens will require information from the EOC advising them of Disaster Assistance locations, hours of service, what services are available to them and how they can receive more detailed information.