Lessons I Learned from Hurricane Irma

By: Howard Melamed

Coral Springs for the most part was spared the ravages of Hurricane Irma. In other words, we dodged the bullet. 

Damage for the most part was limited to trees down and power lost.  Some of our residents are still without power, but so far, this hurricane does not compare to Wilma 12 years ago.  Hopefully we will not have to endure another hurricane for several more years, but these events are unpredictable. Our preparedness however is predictable, and we should learn what we can from the events of this storm.

What did I learn? Plenty.  Here is the list, so far and you feel free to send me your first-hand knowledge.

Government: What worked. What didn’t. 

Coral Springs Police and Fire departments had this storm down to a science. They were prepared both before and after the storm.  I heard a story that the Fire Department delivered a baby. I hope they named her Irma (Had to be a girl). After the storm,  the police quickly set up portable traffic lights at some intersections where traffic lights were out.  They made their presence known all over the city.   We can be proud of both our police and Fire department.

Governor Scott was all over the news, too much. He became the weatherman, and I can tell you the one thing we do not want our government to be is the weatherman.  He called a direct hit on Miami.  The storm hit the Keys and Naples and went up the west coast. His early call made the west coast complacent.  I was in Tampa last Wednesday before the storm, and after he called Miami as the target,  the hotel clerk said to me that she was certain Miami was going to get it.  I was certain to tell her that I would keep an eye on this storm since I was sure Tampa would be the target.

It was important for Governor Scott to make sure we took this storm seriously. He did not have to report the weather at this conference. The wind speed, the direction of the storm, it was quite obvious he did not know what he was talking about.  He did know about preparedness. He made sure to deploy the National Guard quickly.  He is no doubt good at this. Weather? Not his bag.

National Hurricane Center and the Weather people at the Weather Channel and all other stations… 

The NHC called it right. They said that the  Hurricane was going to hit somewhere between the west coast and the east coast of Florida.  Their five day cone and their three day cone was correct.  What was wrong however was their stupid black line with the “M” circled. Even though they told us not to look at the line – everyone looked at the line.  Why they had the line there at all is a problem for me.  Maybe it should have been a very very thick line, like the whole state of Florida, which was exactly the cone. I would recommend they get rid of this line altogether, so the stupid people at all of the TV stations, and the Weather Channel would not point to it and focus our attention.  On one station, the weatherman said it is going to hit Miami directly, as all of the computer models average out to the ‘line’.  All of these people should have known better. They are weather experts – not soothsayers.

When it comes to computer models,  I can tell you empathically that you cannot look at them as a precise instrument of science.  Max Mayfield is an exact instrument of science (See how many of you remember him).  Computer modeling is an inexact science to be used as a guide and not to bet the house on.

Between the USA model and the UKMET model etc etc, each one is to be used as a guide.  No one should pick one over the other, that is, until after the Hurricane has passed, to provide the weather service with more information for future weather forecasting.  However, our weather people were using it as a way of predicting the next number to be called in a KENO game.  Even worse, they used the ENSEMBLE model as if putting all of the guesses together provided us with a fact.  Two guesses do not make a certainty.  In the case of the NHC providing an exact landfall location of any hurricane based on the correlation of all of the models, averaged together is no different than the stars aligning in a horoscope prediction.

I did learn how to spell spaghetti: it has an H in it – H for Hurricane. I do not know why the hurricane forecasters think that comparing all of the possible outcomes of where a hurricane can go to a plate of Italian food makes us all feel like they actually know what they are doing.  I prefer a bullseye target instead, which is impossible for them since they cannot ever get it right …exactly.

Other than looking at it for some guidance, the NHC and other weather forecasters are really  good at calling the race as it is happening – telling us what is going on and what is about to happen in the immediate future – but are bad at making exact predictions of anything past that. They can however provide us with some guidance as to what may take place and therefore allow us to make plans.

The NHC needs to stop this nonsense of providing a line pointing to a specific path and stick to a cone.

Bottled Water

I am not sure why anyone buys bottled water before a hurricane. First of all, it is a terrible way of storing water since it does not provide enough for any length of time and takes up a lot of space.  A five gallon collapsible plastic container is equal to 40 –1/2 liter bottles.  All you need to do when they call a Hurricane Warning is fill up the containers with tap water.  According to FEMA, as long as you maintain the seal tight, the water could last six months.   You should have one container per person in your family, giving you five days worth of water (one gallon per day per person).  If you run out, you can also disinfect water ( pool water, for instance) by adding about eight drops of six percent unscented chlorine bleach, or six drops of 8.25 percent unscented chlorine bleach, to each gallon of water. Double the amount of bleach if the water is cloudy. EPA Drinking Water

Phones for Emergency Calling

My cellphone carrier’s towers went down and signal was spotty (still is) during the storm.  If I needed to make a 911 call, I was told that the phone would roam to another carrier.  However if I needed to let my 91 year old father-in-law know that we were okay, and he should not worry,  that was another matter.   I also use AT&T’s U-verse’s landline phone plan, which uses the internet – an IP phone. Our U-verse service went off-line during the hurricane, so did Advanced Cable TV which is now BlueStream.  So any phones connected to these services were not working either.  In my case, my son had a Verizon cellphone which was working fine. I learned that we cannot count on the cellphone carriers or the internet providers for emergency communication.  You need alternate forms of communication in case either one goes down.

The push for family plans by the carriers have created a weakness in this redundancy.  It is in fact better during a disaster that you do not have the same carrier.  You can if you want to keep your family plan, but make sure you have an international SIM card that you can buy. When in a disaster, you pop the foreign SIM card in and you can roam to any carrier that is available. The best part is to make sure you have two different cell phone providers, or go out and pick up a pay-as-you-go-phone from a provider you don’t have. Trackfone and others may use the same network as your cellphone, so make sure it is a PRIME provider like T Mobile, AT&T, Verizon or Sprint.

For the IP Phone, you need to make sure you understand that if the internet is down, you will not be able to make or receive calls.

TV

So your TV cable service went out – and the kids are driving you crazy,  hook up a set of  ‘rabbit ears’ or an antenna to your TV and press auto channel program in the set up menu of your TV to pick up all of the digital stations in our area.  I would recommend you get a set for next time and keep it in a drawer somewhere.

That’s just a few lessons learned.  I know there are others.