How people on the East Coast fare as Hurricane Florence reaches landfall will depend in large part on what they have done to themselves to prepare in advance, says Beth Gazley, professor in the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Disaster resilience begins, she said, by understanding how environmental change has kicked up the force of these storms, by making them bigger, slower and wetter.
“That means your past experience with storms — or your house’s past experience — may no longer be valid,” Gazley said. “Climate-induced hurricanes are a different animal.”
It also means residents should think in terms of elevation rather than just wind speed when they consider their risk. “Rain flows downhill,” Gazley said. “Most of Hurricane Harvey’s victims in Texas were flood victims. Evacuating low-lying areas, regardless of your distance to the coast, will be crucial.”
Disaster resilience also requires acknowledging our collective responsibility as citizens to prepare for major storms, said Gazley, a co-founder of Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute.
“Ask any emergency responder what he or she wants from us,” she said, “and you’ll get the same answer: ‘Make a plan and assemble an emergency kit. We can help you best when you help yourself.’ Each of us needs to start that planning effort in advance of a storm. How are you going to charge your cellphone if the power is out for days and possibly weeks? Think through these questions in advance.”
One of the most active Red Cross campaigns, Gazley said, is about family and workplace emergency preparedness. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has excellent resources at www.ready.gov.
But even in the best of circumstances, and even when we implement good emergency plans, some people will need help.
“Fortunately it’s a natural human inclination to help others,” Gazley said. “So give. Give today, not next week — in fact, I just made a gift on the www.redcross.org website. Make an unrestricted gift so the charity can use it where it’s most needed.
“Then renew that gift next year, and the year after, even when a disaster is not happening. The most successful charities depend on long-term support. That kind of financial stability gives them the chance to train and retain the kind of experienced professional emergency response staff we all need.”
Gazley said people who don’t give to established charities like the American Red Cross because of their high reported overhead costs are making a mistake.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t give to the disaster charity with the ‘lowest overhead,'” she said. “The nonprofit research is pretty clear that charities with low overhead may fail to thrive in other important ways, like investing in fundraising or in experienced senior staff.”