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Empowering Resilience: Insights from Hurricane Preparedness Seminar

As Florida’s coastal communities brace themselves for an accelerating Atlantic Hurricane Season – with Hurricane Idalia poised to make landfall within days – a hurricane preparedness seminar was hosted on August 23, 2023, at the Don Soffer Clinical Research Center. The seminar, presented by James M. Shultz, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, offered a platform for presenting information on preparedness.

As an expert from the Division of Epidemiology and Population Health Sciences, Dr. Shultz delved into the intricate framework of hurricane preparedness. His insights shed light on the importance of disaster readiness, focusing on the Florida context. The seminar, held in a hybrid format, alerted students, faculty, and staff to the potential for an impactful storm season.

The Atlantic Hurricane Season spans from June 1st to November 30th, reaching its peak nationally in September and extending to October in Florida. This timeframe is of special significance to out-of-state and international students who haven't experienced living in regions susceptible to hurricanes.

James Shultz
Dr. James Shultz

“In an era of climate change, hurricanes are becoming stronger and wetter, with forward motion frequently slowing as they come onshore, leading to protracted exposure and more severe damage and destruction,” said Dr. Shultz.

Dr. Shultz also emphasized that hurricanes tend to be “multi-hazard” events involving strong winds, storm surge, and deluging rains, followed by widespread power outages, and—this year especially—prolonged exposure to heat and humidity in the aftermath. Dr. Shultz serves on a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine consensus committee focusing on “compounding disasters” and Florida hurricanes provide a quintessential example of such events.

Dr. Shultz discussed numerous aspects of hurricane hazards and related these to the “literally off-the-charts” heat extremes of 2023. In many areas of the globe, “heat exposure has become unsustainable and effectively unphysiological,” stressed Dr. Shultz, leading to newly described diseases of the kidney for persons who must work occupationally in hot outdoor environments. 

Miami-Dade County has created the world’s first Chief Heat Officer (CHO) position, in charge of expediting existing heat protection measures and beginning new work to mitigate the risks and impacts of heat stress and extreme heat in vulnerable areas, shared Dr. Shultz. 

Following a hurricane, prolonged power outages may suddenly thrust large numbers of storm survivors, accustomed to relying on air-conditioning for cooling, into unrelenting exposure to high heat and humidity. “During 2023 especially, we are not seeing the usual degree of nighttime cooling,” Dr. Shultz said. Emergency managers and healthcare professionals are especially concerned about the likelihood of a “double disaster” scenario – consisting of hurricane and heatwave – with widespread heat stress occurring among storm survivors. Persons living with high-risk medical conditions are disproportionately susceptible. 

Given the likelihood of a hurricane-blackout-heatwave sequence, attendees were urged to stockpile water – hydration is essential for healthy survival, he emphasized. 

The seminar offered actionable guidance through detailed discussions of hurricane watches and warnings, exploring the nuances of the Miami-Dade hurricane readiness guide. Participants learned when to evacuate, and what to include in their disaster kit checklist.

Disaster preparedness checklist
Disaster preparedness checklist

Attendees left the seminar with knowledge, preparedness strategies, and a renewed commitment to safeguarding their well-being and communities during the ongoing hurricane season. Takeaways included an array of resources including recommendations to become familiar with three useful websites: My Fox Hurricane, National Hurricane Center (NHC), Tropical Tidbits, and the Miami-Dade hurricane readiness guide (available in English, Spanish, and Creole). 

Climate change amplifies the intensity of natural disasters, and discussions like this bridge the gap between knowledge and action, ensuring that when storms hit, Floridians are not only prepared but resilient in the face of nature's phenomena.

Written by Deycha Torres Hernández
Published on August 28, 2023