2011 Hurricane Forecast

7 04 2011

Hurricane season is rapidly approaching.  It is time to begin preparing your family and your business for what very well may be an active hurricane season in the Gulf Coast.  In fact, there is a thought that there exists an above-average probability of  a major hurricane landfall in the United States and the Caribbean.

Every year at this time, experts at Colorado State University (CSU) make predictions forecasting what is expected in the upcoming hurricane season.  The Tropical Meteorology Project is headed by Colorado State University’s Dr. William Gray. Professor Gray has worked in the observational and theoretical aspects of tropical meteorological research for more than 40 years.

Dr. Gray’s hurricane forecast has gained international attention, and won him the Neil Frank Award of the National Hurricane Conference in 1995. His Atlantic basin hurricane forecasts are published here. (Archived forecasts are available.)

Dr. Phil Klotzbach has worked with Dr. Gray on the seasonal hurricane forecasts since 2000 and is currently working as a research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science. He designed the United States Landfalling Hurricane Probability Webpage which has received over 500,000 hits since its inception on June 1, 2004. His research interests include seasonal hurricane prediction and causes of climate change.

Dr. Gray and Dr. Klotzbach anticipate an above-average probability of United States and Caribbean major hurricane landfall.  They call for 16 named storms forming in the Atlantic basin between June 1 and Nov. 30. Nine of those are expected to turn into hurricanes with five developing into major hurricanes (Saffir/Simpson category 3-4-5) with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.

“We expect that anomalously warm tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures combined with neutral tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures will contribute to an active season,” said Klotzbach of the CSU Tropical Meteorology Project. “We have reduced our forecast slightly from early December due to a combination of recent ocean warming in the eastern and central tropical Pacific and recent cooling in the tropical Atlantic.”

The hurricane forecast team made this early April forecast based on a new forecast scheme that relies on 29 years of historical data. The hurricane team’s forecasts are based on the premise global oceanic and atmospheric conditions – such as El Nino, sea surface temperatures, sea level pressures – that preceded active or inactive hurricane seasons in the past provide meaningful information about similar conditions that will likely occur in the current year. The team’s annual predictions are intended to provide a best estimate of activity to be experienced during the upcoming season, not
an exact measure.

“We remain – since 1995 – in a favorable multi-decadal period for enhanced Atlantic Basin hurricane activity, which is expected to continue for the next 10-15 years or so,” Gray said. “Except for the very destructive hurricane seasons of 2004-2005, United States coastal residents have experienced no other major landfalling hurricanes since 1999. This recent 9 of 11-year period without any major landfall events should not be expected to continue.”

Senate Passes Bill Allowing Fort Bend County Representation on the Gulf Coast Water Authority Board

6 04 2011

Zen Zheng, Houston Chronicle, wrote the following article.  The item was published on April 4, 2011, and provides an update on the status of Senate Bill 683, which affects Fort Bend County.

The Texas Senate has unanimously passed a bill to allow Fort Bend and Brazoria counties to have voting power for the first time on the Gulf Coast Water Authority Board.  Senate Bill 683, drafted by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Lake Jackson, and its companion House Bill 3621, authored by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would bring the number of voting members from seven to nine.

Local authorities, including Fort Bend County Commissioners Court and Sugar Land Mayor James Thompson, support the legislation.  Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert called the two counties’ ability to add voting members to the board “a simple matter of fairness and equity.”

The water authority board opposes both bills and has hired a lobbyist to block Bonnen’s proposed legislation, which the House is expected to consider soon, Sugar Land city officials said.  The Senate bill, which was passed on a 30-0 vote, would grant the power to two non-voting representatives – one from each of the two counties – who participate in discussions during board meetings with the seven regular voting board members, who are all appointed by Galveston County Commissioners Court.

The new legislation would enable Fort Bend and Brazoria county commissioners to appoint new voting members to the board.  The water authority owns and operates rivers, creeks and man-made channels that provide surface water in Galveston, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.

Since its creation in 1965, the authority, which serves residents, cities and industries, has grown in both capacity and customer base that reach far beyond Galveston County. Nearly 40 percent of the total contracted water volume is provided to Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.

TEEX’s Emergency Operations Training Center Trains First Responders from New York and New Jersey

4 04 2011

Many Emergency Managers in Texas have been fortunate enough to complete training at the Emergency Operations Training Center (EOTC) in College Station.  The EOTC, a Texas Engineering Extension Service facility in College Station, is a 32,000 square foot facility which uses state-of-the-art simulation and computer-based technologies to train incident managers and supervisors in the management of a large-scale crisis using a unified command approach, which can be tailored to any group.

However, many in the State of Texas take this training asset for granted.  I do not think many realize the national scope of the offerings at TEEX.  Training courses offered by TEEX have delivered homeland security type training for more than 200,000 responders in nearly 7,500 jurisdictions in all 50 states.    Responders from major urban areas in the United States, such as Los Angeles and New York, have traveled to College Station for incident management training.  For information about one recent training exercise, please read from TEEX news release (April 1, 2001) below:

The PATH train station located below One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial were the focus of a simulated crisis last week at TEEX’s Emergency Operations Training Center (EOTC). The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey brought 47 first responders and emergency management officials to College Station, Texas, to participate in an incident management exercise as part of its preparation for the 10th anniversary and opening of the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the World Trade Center.

The Memorial will be dedicated and opened to the public on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. On Sept. 12, the public may visit the Memorial with a reserved visitor pass. Millions of visitors are expected the first year.

“The people here (at the EOTC) this week are the leaders who would be working with the Port Authority during an incident,” said Brian Lacey, Director of the Port Authority’s Office of Emergency Management. “This exercise brings together 16 agencies, working together as a team in preparation of a major incident, and allows them to get rid of any prejudices and any mistakes they might make.”

Besides visitors to the 9/11 Memorial each day, One World Trade Center, and other buildings in the area are under construction with 3,000 to 5,000 workers onsite 24/7, he said. “That’s a lot of people to protect, plus about 50,000 riders each day on the PATH station underground. And adjacent to the Memorial is the busiest intersection in New York City, at Church Street and Vessey,” he added.

The Port Authority of NY & NJ is responsible for safety and security at the World Trade Center property, but in case of a large incident, would rely on mutual aid from a wide variety of organizations, many of which were represented at the EOTC exercise. “These groups have gone back and spread the word about our training and exercise model,” Lacey said. “New Jersey Transit and Metropolitan Transportation Authority have adopted this model.”

Representing one of the partnering agencies at the Incident Command System (ICS) training exercise was Daniel Donoghue, Deputy Chief of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), 3rd Division, Midtown Manhattan. “I wasn’t sure what to expect this week. I’m comfortable in a command role, but then I worked in planning and logistics,” he said. “It has taken me out of my comfort zone, but it has been interesting and useful. We’re learning the process.”

“This training is about how to operate in a high-profile, large incident. This training is extremely valuable because it allows us to work with numerous city agencies, something we do not often get the chance to do. For example, we’ve been able to discuss real-life questions relating to a mass-casualty incident with the Medical Examiner’s Office and the Department of Health, as well as talking to the Port Authority. The networking is great; we’re making contacts and learning what other agencies can contribute.”

“For these jurisdiction rotations, we respond to an “incident” on our own terrain, and we create an event that could really happen,” said Jim Munday, Senior Manager of Emergency Readiness for the Port Authority. “Last year, a short time after we completed the full-scale exercise at the Newark Liberty International Airport, we had the scare of a bomb in a FedEx package. Because of our training, our response at the Newark Airport went extremely well.”

“So far, we’ve had seven rotations with TEEX, and it’s been a tremendous experience,” Munday added. “We bring a cohort group of people from our region. They are working together as a team, and they will go back and continue this with some drills and orientations and a full-scale exercise, following the HSEEP (Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program) model. It’s really beneficial because it’s better to meet people in a learning environment than it is to meet for the first time onsite at a major incident. This is the model for the United States. It is the model we’re using and now other agencies have been copying. We’re taking a methodical approach, and we’ve had tremendous success.”

Lacey agreed: “My office has partnered with TEEX for several years doing these jurisdictional rotations. I’ve been very impressed. I think it’s a great program. It’s tough economic times, but my chain of command couldn’t be more supportive of what we’re doing. We’re able to use federal grant funding and leverage it for our mutual aid partners as well.”

The Port Authority also plans to hold an exercise involving JFK Airport at the EOTC in May, Munday said, adding that future exercises will likely involve the George Washington Bridge, the Jersey City Transportation Center, and LaGuardia Airport.

The Port Authority has 7,000 employees and operates five airports, two tunnels, four bridges, the Ports of New Jersey and New York and 13 stations on the PATH lines, as well as property at the World Trade Center.

High Tech Not Always Best for Communicating During Catastrophe

3 04 2011

Many in the Emergency Management field focus on purchasing new communication technology or upgrading to the next version of software or phone service that promises to solve all communication issues in a disaster.  Well, might be important to slow down and remember that for all the benefits of high tech communication products may become pretty worthless during a disaster event where electricity, phone service, and the Internet are not working.  Below is a good article that illustrates the point.  Published in the New York Times on March 27, 2011.  Quake Area Residents Turn to Old Means of Communication to Keep Informed, by Martin Fackler.  Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/world/asia/28phones.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

MIYAKO, Japan — To Ryo Orui, a high school junior, almost as frightening as the trembling of the earth or the wailing of tsunami sirens was the loss of his cellphone signal. When Japan’s big earthquake struck, Mr. Orui said, he felt a wave of panic at not being able to instantly contact loved ones, or get news on what was happening.

So he jumped on his bicycle and pedaled around this tsunami-ravaged fishing port on Japan’s rugged northern coast to check on the safety of his parents and classmates.

“I felt so isolated,” said Mr. Orui, 17. “You don’t realize how much you rely on something until you lose it.”

Among the casualties of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake on March 11 were modern communications networks, which proved surprisingly vulnerable. Millions of people in eastern and northern Japan, including Tokyo, lost some or all cellphone service. A total of 1.3 million land lines and fiber-optic links also went dead.

While those interruptions pale in comparison to the human tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami — 27,000 people are dead or missing — the fragility of modern communications has emerged as one of the catastrophe’s sobering lessons.

In a technology-crazed nation where many people were glued to cellphones and accustomed to the Internet’s nearly instantaneous access to information, being cut off has proved disorienting and frightening. Many local governments in the hardest-hit areas, desperate to reach residents with important emergency information, have reached into the past for more tried-and-true means of communication, including radios, newspapers and even human messengers.

“When cellphones went down, there was paralysis and panic,” said Shoji Ogasawara, the head of emergency communications at Miyako’s City Hall, where the tsunami filled the first floor with foul-smelling mud. “Everyone was running around asking, ‘What happened to the nuclear plant? What happened to our town?’ ”

Throughout the country, people have turned to low-tech alternatives in their sometimes frantic search for news of loved ones in quake-affected areas. They have posted notices on bulletin boards and recorded tearful pleas on television. Even in Tokyo, normally a high-tech showplace for the nation, residents have turned to improvisation.

A small shop near Tokyo Station that specializes in products from Fukushima Prefecture, the site of the stricken nuclear plant, suddenly founded itself crowded by people who came because it carries newspapers from that region, which are hard to find elsewhere in Tokyo. About 500 people now visit the store each day to scan the newspapers’ lists of names of those in Fukushima’s refugee shelters, a manager, Yutaka Suzuki, said.

While Tokyo’s cellphone service has been restored, much of Miyako remains cut off from cellphones and the Internet.

The city’s main way of releasing the names of survivors of the disaster is to tape printed lists on the walls of City Hall. Lacking e-mail, officials deliver by hand these lists to other city offices for posting.

To warn residents in the event of another tsunami, Miyako relies on a network of more than 300 outdoor loudspeakers and sirens, some of which date to the end of World War II.

Waves from the 25-foot tsunami also knocked out roads and electricity. As a result, city officials say, radio has proven to be the most reliable medium to get information to survivors scattered over a wide area.

Within a week of the earthquake, a group of residents got permission from the city to create a small, emergency radio station, Miyako Disaster FM, which began broadcasting on Tuesday from what had been an unused room in a building run by the national farm cooperative. They equipped it with a few microphones on a folding table, and a transmitter whose signals reach up to nine miles.

While large stations provide national news, Miyako Disaster’s founder, Hisao Hashimoto, said his fills a need for very local information: stores that are open, goods that are for sale and above all, messages from people looking for missing friends and family members.

“In a disaster, radio has been the best way to get real-time information,” said Mr. Hashimoto, a 56-year-old magazine editor who said he had long dreamed of starting a radio station. “All you need is a hand-held receiver and batteries, or a car radio.”

On a recent morning, a wave of excitement filled the cramped studio: minutes after broadcasting a message from a relative looking for a woman named Noriko Yamaguchi, someone from a refugee center called to say Ms. Yamaguchi was there, and safe.

“These are the moments when you realize how much the community is depending on us,” said Ayako Kimura, 34, an office worker whose role as chief on-air personality has quickly transformed her into a local celebrity.

As Internet service is restored, Mr. Hashimoto has begun to use services like Twitter to spread word about the broadcasts. But radio, he said, remains the most important medium for another reason: the large number of elderly in Japan’s rapidly aging rural communities in the north who shy away from the Internet.

That was evident at Sokei Elementary School, one of 61 makeshift shelters housing Miyako’s some 4,900 survivors of the tsunami, where many of the 130 people sleeping on the gymnasium floor are middle-aged or older. Many said they had become loyal listeners of Miyako Disaster’s twice-daily broadcasts.

“My generation doesn’t use the Internet,” said Emiko Okubo, 57, a restaurant worker whose home was washed away.

Many shelters are also printing their own mini-newspapers. In his free time, Katsutoshi Maekawa, a city employee who works at the Sokei Elementary shelter, produces the Sokei Community Daily, a one-page newsletter that tells refugees here about events at the shelter and surrounding neighborhood.

“Paper can be read right away and passed around,” Mr. Maekawa, 34, said. “No turning on a monitor, no online connections, no keyboards.” Even younger Japanese like Mr. Orui, who prefer to go online, say weeks of being cut off from the Internet have made them realize how reliant they had become on new technologies that could be so easily disrupted.

“Cellphones and the Internet were the first things to go,” said Eri Itobata, 17, a high school student who volunteered to help Miyako Disaster radio. “Thankfully the old technologies were still around.”

Ken Belson contributed reporting from Tokyo, and Makiko Inoue from Miyako, Japan.

Congress Considering Emergency Management Bills

2 04 2011

A small number of bills in Congress deal with disaster planning or recovery efforts.

* Reacting to the earthquake in Japan, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced the Critical Infrastructure Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2011 (HR 1132) on March 16. The bill would direct the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to create a grant program specifically for improving the ability of hospitals and airports to withstand earthquakes. Communities on active fault lines could be eligible for funding under his measure. Cohen’s own district in Tennessee is located along the New Madrid Fault Line, and in a press release on the bill, he notes that Memphis could obtain funds to reinforce its airport under this bill. It has not had committee or floor action.

* HR 570 is the Dental Emergency Responder Act of 2011, and passed the House on March 8. The bill, from Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Texas), would clarify that dentists could be considered as voluntary disaster-response public health workers under the federal disaster-response framework. The bill has not had Senate action.

* HR 175 is the Smart Housing in Disasters Act of 2011, and was introduced on Jan. 5, by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee. The bill would direct the administrator of FEMA to develop “lifecycle plans and tracking procedures” for housing provided after a disaster. It has not had committee or floor action.

* HR 57 is the Disaster Recovery Improvement Act and was introduced on Jan. 5, by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). It would amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to require swifter decisions on appeals of decisions pertaining to eligibility for, and amounts of, federal disaster assistance; direct the president to implement certain regulations pertaining to the repair of public facilities damaged by disasters; direct FEMA to revise the evaluation process for governors’ requests for major disaster declarations; and authorize the president to provide assistance for pets and service animals during emergencies. It has not had committee or floor consideration.

Texas Emergency Management Conference set for San Antonio

1 04 2011

The 2011 Texas Emergency Management Conference will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio April 26-29. The conference is sponsored by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management. The conference combines presentations, training and workshops normally associated with the Texas Hurricane Conference and the Texas Homeland Security Conference into one premier event. Representatives from more than 30 agencies on the Governor’s Emergency Management Council will attend, along with public officials from local, state and national governments, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, Texas Military Forces, voluntary organizations and private sector partners. Officials from higher education, public education, health and medical care, border security and port security, transportation and cyber security also will attend. For more information and to register, click here.