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Thursday, February 29, 2024

National Preparedness Month: With Every Disaster Comes Lessons to Adjust Your Plan

I’m still surprised to talk to people who were caught off guard, unprepared for what we know that we know.

Emergency managers. They are nimble, multitasking problem solvers. To be more effective, emergency managers need to avoid distractions to best focus on the job at hand.

For many years I lived in Guam and Florida; I’m not new to hurricanes. I have been on the ground or in the proximity of 40 named storms, including a Category 5 super typhoon, and have worked post-landfall for another dozen storms. The most important lesson I have learned from this experience is that your own personal plan may be the most important element to you being effective as an emergency manager. When was the last time you reviewed and revised your personal hurricane plan?

“Make a plan, get a kit, be prepared.” You’ve heard it many times before, in multiple ways. I’ve said it myself on multiple occasions. But say it too many times and people become complacent. That complacency is dangerous, because with every storm comes new lessons. Some things I’ve learned through study, some through experience and some by observing challenges faced by others. You plan and prepare to deal with the things you know and can predict, and then you can apply your attention to the things you can’t predict. With all we know and all we don’t know, I’m still surprised to talk to people who were caught off guard, unprepared for what we know that we know.

During my three years in Guam, we experienced over a dozen named storms including Cat 5 Super-typhoon Paka in 1997. After each storm we made revisions in plans. After Paka, we rewrote nearly the whole plan.

During Hurricane Irma’s landfall in South Florida, I worked for the American Red Cross and was with our team at the Miami-Dade EOC. My wife and son were home about 150 miles away. We’ve done this drill many times before (and since) pretty much without incident. We had a plan and stocked supplies every year. I owned two generators and my wife was properly trained in their operation.

As Irma moved inland and closer to my house, I was focused on my work duties at the EOC and stayed in contact with my wife for updates. But focus was waning. As the power failed at home, phone service got erratic, but texts were mostly reliable. I texted my wife information of the rain bands I could see on radar and tracked the center of the storm as it came closer to my home. My wife would text me updates in the dark while she used every towel we owned to mop up water coming in through the doors, windows and in some cases through the walls. This was my distraction, my home and family.

A couple of days post-landfall, I went home and found myself waiting four hours in line at the gas station for fuel, hours in the heat repairing my house and debris removal followed by a cold shower and a night’s sleep without air conditioning.

After Irma, we adjusted our plan. Now is the time for you to do the same.

Charles Parker
Charles Parker
Charles (Chuck) Parker is a Senior Director supporting several key operations within Tidal Basin’s Preparedness, Resiliency, and Emergency Management (PREM) teams. With 15 years in the disaster management field, Chuck has served in a variety of emergency response roles. He recently served as Tidal Basin's director of Florida Vaccine Operations, supporting the Florida Division of Emergency Management's COVID-19 vaccine operations for the Florida population. Before joining Tidal Basin, he served in South Florida with the American Red Cross for 10 years, the last three as the Regional Disaster Officer, leading a team of 16 paid staff and over 2,000 volunteers. He was the operations lead on a divisional response management deployment team and was deployed pre-landfall to several hurricanes. During his tenure at Red Cross, Parker worked on over 50 disaster relief operations, including over 30 hurricanes, multiple wildfires, tornadoes, multi-family fires, and mass casualty incidents, including the response to the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. He has 40 certifications from Red Cross and holds over 150 FEMA certifications, including PDS and APS designations. Prior to Red Cross, Parker owned and operated his own home improvement business. Prior to that, he worked in operations management for over 17 years, 13 of which were with Gannett Co., Inc., where he worked his way up from a distribution center manager to a corporate executive.

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