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September 26, 2018
This is a three-part blog series with lessons Net Friends learned from Hurricane Florence:
Below are the important dates regarding Hurricane Florence and Net Friends’ corresponding emergency response:
With great humility, it is so clear to me that we were not prepared in so many ways for this Hurricane. Setting the stage was the alarming media coverage that kept us whipped up all through the point when Florence made landfall on September 14th. I wish we didn’t allow the shifting forecasts to cause countless alterations to our plans, rendering hours of effort moot again and again.
However, an essential part of emergency planning, which we didn’t fully appreciate, is planning for potential unexpected events and situations that may arise. We tried to anticipate as much as we could, but a few elements of surprise still popped up in the midst of the hurricane’s approach, the event itself, and the aftermath.
What we didn’t see coming:
1. Our internal emergency response procedures weren’t where we wanted them to be on Monday, September 10th, when we started the work week.
2. We were developing and adapting – far more than executing – a strategic emergency response plan, which created avoidable stress and error. We didn’t calibrate our communications well as a result, and thus over-communicated in some areas and failed to communicate in others.
3. We planned so much for the hurricane itself, we failed to prepare for the aftermath (as did the rest of Durham!)
To elaborate on the 3rd item above that we didn’t see coming, we were caught flat-footed by the flash floods left in the wake of Florence. That it was raining heavily barely registered for those of us who live in Durham when we first woke up on Monday morning, September 17th. It wasn’t until the first tornado warning Emergency Alert went off on our phones at 7:35 a.m., warning us to seek cover, that it was clearly not a typical day. Another Emergency Alert went off soon after 8:00 a.m. after rotation was spotted over downtown Durham. Flood waters were rising, after up to 9” of rain fell within the span of a few hours in the early morning.
Because we relaxed our guard over the weekend as Florence rolled out of town, we already had some staff report into our offices before the tornado warnings and we were focused first on alerting our staff to take cover. Once the tornado threat passed, we ventured out and discovered just how many roads were impassable due to swollen rivers and downed trees. By now, most of our staff was already actively commuting to work. While I’m proud that we put safety first and our communications were high quality, we felt a step behind all day.
For the last and final blog post, Hurricane Florence: Planning for the Future, I’ll share with you some ideas we had based on these lessons that we want to have in place.
What precautions and planning did you do to prepare for Hurricane Florence? Did you learn any lessons from this storm? What emergency response procedures do you plan on having in place in the event of another emergency like this one? We’d love for you to share.