We are now officially in the Atlantic Hurricane Season. It started June 1st. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts that a near-average season is likely, with 14 named storms, of which six could become hurricanes. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane when its wind speed reaches 74 mph. Even if a hurricane season is predicted to be mild, local officials here always prepare for the worst.
There’s a room at New Hanover County’s Government Center in Wilmington that is usually empty. It’s the emergency operations center. Lots of tables, chairs, phones and computer screens. It springs to life when a storm or other emergency strikes or is on the horizon.
Steven Still is the Director for Emergency Management and 911 in the County.
“Yeah, and I'll say mostly we prepare all year for something like this. We view hurricanes and tropical storms as we do most anything - we call it really all hazards. So we approach this, you know, any type of large scale hazard the same way we will with the hurricane. It's an accepted national principal, national incident management system.”
Still and his team got through an annual two-day hurricane exercise in April to prepare.
He says that ultimately, the annual hurricane forecast means very little, because it only take one big storm.
“It's been a long time since we've had one of significant damage and… or we have people just moving into the area that's never really experienced one before. But Floyd and Fran was the last one that we've had. Mass evacuations, widespread damage, power outages for an extended period of time. It's been quite some time.”
We’ve already had one named tropical storm this season. Alberto hit the southeast last week, bringing rain to the Cape Fear Region.
“We've had pretty, pretty rough flooding and most parts of our trouble areas in New Hanover County. So that's just a small sub-tropical system, if you can imagine looking at a large scale storm duration of rain for a period of days on top of saturated soils, that flooding would be a severe issue here.”
With storms, come flooding. And even if you don’t live in a flood zone, experts says flood insurance isn’t a bad idea.
Craig Fugate was the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA Administrator during the Obama Administration. Today he’s a consultant pushing to improve the National Flood Insurance Program. He says the 50-year-old program is outdated and billions of dollars in debt. It’s also about to expire.
“Well, the program’s due to expire in July and for folks in North Carolina, that's not going to be good. South Carolina either as you look at the top of impacts, all these storms are bringing. You don't want this program to end, so they need to reauthorize it or you won't be able to buy flood insurance come August first or you won't be able to renew your policy.”
He says he’d like to see a reformed National Flood Insurance Program to better communicate actual risk, break the cycle of repeated loss and rebuilding in the most flood-prone areas, and provide incentives to compel communities and homeowners to prepare in advance of floods.
According to FEMA, between 2000 and 2015, 17 federal disasters and emergencies were declared for floods, hurricanes, and severe storms in North Carolina, which exceeded $456 million in total assistance from the U.S. government.
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