- Stephen Jordan
ISD Statement on Hurricane Fiona, Typhoon Merbok, and Hurricane Ian
Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Fish camp in Nome, Alaska, on September 24, 2022, following Typhoon Merbok.
Source: Alaska Public Media
Get updates on Hurricanes Fiona and Ian.
Seven Principles for Community Disaster Management Leaders
Fiona, the third hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, dropped major rainfall and gusting winds on parts of the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Rainfall measurements suggest that Fiona broke a 24-hour rainfall record for Puerto Rico that was previously set in 1985.
Hurricane Ian is quickly following the devastation of Fiona, with life-threatening storm surges, hurricane-force winds, flash floods, tornadoes, and other significant consequences currently unfolding in Florida.
Far from the Atlantic hurricanes, western Alaska also continues to recover from Typhoon Merbok that struck more than a week ago in what has been dubbed “the worst storm to hit the area in half a century.”
These disasters, particularly Hurricanes Fiona and Ian given their close proximity to each other, are not events exclusive of each other. In fact, they ought to be considered a “package deal” in terms of their cumulative impact.
Typically, storms like these receive the most attention during their occurrence and the first ten weeks after landfall. However, as has been widely reported, Puerto Rico has still been struggling to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria five years ago.
Alaska, Florida, Puerto Rico, and other impacted areas need to be supported in their efforts, not just to clean up and restore services, but to return to normalcy and increase their resiliency to future storms as swiftly as possible. These should be the true goals of long-term disaster response.
While federal agencies like FEMA and HUD and national companies and philanthropies will provide assistance, the true locus of disaster management will take place at the state and local levels.
Here are Seven Disaster Management Principles for Community Leaders:
Communicate constantly. During the emergency response phase, define the goals of this phase, e.g., search and rescue, preventing further harm, and securing the disaster zone, but also provide context and manage expectations about the overall disaster management process. Rumors, missing information, and mistaken information can affect response efforts significantly. It’s very important to be calm, cool, and collected, and it’s okay not to rush to judgment or have definitive answers immediately. What’s important is ensuring people understand the process, and have context and access to information and resources that will help them get through this difficult time.
Don’t neglect mental health. Individual and collective mental health is hugely important. Many people will be traumatized, perhaps injured, or have lost loved ones or everything they own. Even people who have not lost anything may be traumatized by the damage done to the community. Set up a support system for caregivers as well.
Focus initially on stabilizing the situation. Uncertainty is one of the biggest contributing factors to undermining confidence in disaster response. Leaders can combat this by providing a roadmap for restoration of services, school, business and/or other re-openings, and by providing clear guidance about how to manage with ongoing disaster management challenges.
It may feel too early to think about the long-term, but this is just as critical as the short-term. Deadlines for individual assistance (IA) and public assistance (PA) can happen more swiftly than people realize. Damage assessments and preliminary planning for future rebuilding and resilience should begin as soon as possible. The sooner your Recovery and Resilience team can get up and running, the more likely you will be: 1) ready for the offers of assistance that come your way, and 2) able to embed your long-term needs into your current thinking.
Figure out how to help your smaller and least-resourced populations, neighborhoods, and/or communities on an ongoing basis. Bigger organizations and communities have many more resources and staff to help them recover. Poorer, vulnerable, and more sparsely populated areas don’t necessarily have visibility about available resources, and they may be coping with pre-existing financial, infrastructural, and other deficits as well. The result is that post-disaster, assistance tends to go toward high-visibility and high-resourced places, compared to other areas that may have been just as deeply impacted, if not more. This can further exacerbate community challenges and delay the overall post-disaster community healing process.
Take care of your small businesses and other entities that contribute to the community fabric. Small businesses are critical employment drivers, and they have the most vested interest in helping communities come back. Many small businesses will do what they can to re-open, but the average business only has 27 days of cash on hand. Encourage them to take advantage of SBA disaster assistance resources, particularly Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) opportunities.
Leverage partnerships. Disasters are comprehensive – they affect every community system. No single government agency, business, nor other entity has every competency or capability needed to handle the disaster response on their own. Partnerships for emergency management, relief, stabilization, and recovery can be enormously beneficial. They help leverage resources, increase coverage, add expertise, and strengthen communication, coordination, and collaboration.
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