Storm Planning

Hurricane Dennis 1999
Emergency planners in other coastal states are resorting to "tough love" to get people to take care of themselves if a hurricane comes their way. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Emergency planners will tell you their hardest job, every year, is getting people to prepare for their own survival, and evacuate ahead of a hurricane. This year, Florida is going proactive, with public service announcements on radio and TV they hope will get the message out that help may not be on the way when the storm is actually coming ashore.

"911. Yes, water is all in the house. The roof is completely caved in on us. We need emergency assistance. Please. Okay ma'am, we can't respond right because of the condition of the hurricane." "Our neighbors have evacuated and everyone is gone. Please tell me what to do. The roof is coming in on us, we gonna die in this house if we don't get some help. Unfortunately, we cannot send anybody out in the storm right now. Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida. The most important thing you can do to prepare for these storms is to develop a family hurricane preparedness plan."

They're not using those exact words, but the clear message is that people who are able to get out ahead of a storm will be expected to, and only the elderly, the disabled, and the poor who have no transportation can count on getting help when a storm hits. Jack Colley is the Texas Chief of Emergency Management in the Governor's office. He says he agrees with Florida's emphasis on personal responsibility, but even people who're prepared sometimes still need help, and he's not ready to tell those people they're on their own.

"Some things people can control, and some things they cannot control. And the absolute job one is to ensure that no one is left that doesn't choose to be there in that surge zone, so that their life is affected by the event itself."

Colley says after last year's massive death toll and destruction from Texas to Florida, he wonders if people in coastal areas really need to be told how dangerous hurricanes are. Besides, he thinks local officials and news media do a very good job of educating people and keeping them informed.

"Whether it be in the Houston area, or Galveston, I know they all have excellent programs every year that stress personal and family preparedness. You have one in your area. Ya'll do a great job with the media in that area, in informing citizens of the threat and what they should do. I think these are things that are done locally and very well in Texas."

Even so, Colley says his office is planning a public service campaign similar to, but not just like, the one in Florida, and it'll stress the importance of planning and preparing, and acting immediately when the time comes. He also says even without coming out and saying it, he thinks personal self reliance has always been implicit in the Texas disaster preparedness message. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.