In early September 1999, the name, Floyd would soon be remembered for years and years. Hurricane Floyd struck the eastern coast of the United States in during the mid-month of September of 1999. This storm originated over the Atlantic off of the western region of Africa. Although Floyd only began as a tropical wave, it became a storm the United States thought could be the biggest and strongest they had ever seen. In preparation for this storm from Weather Forecast Offices and different Prediction Centers began to warn the public. Although the strange path of the hurricane, it was believed that it could directly hit Florida and wreak havoc up the coastline of the United States. As Floyd raised its power as it survived, it had almost become a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale which is the highest category there is. Floyd became responsible for the largest evacuation in United States history. The articles used in this paper will identify the beginning of Floyd and how its path affected the outcome of Florida’s evacuation evaluation. They will show how it was prepared, and who played their roles. In conclusion to this study will show contrast to previous hurricane emergencies and contribute to possible methodologies to mitigate for a future evacuation demand.
Hurricane Floyd can originally be traced to Western Africa from a Tropical Wave that emerged on September 2nd, 1999. As the storm moved across the Atlantic in eyes of Weather Forecasters, they upgraded the system to Tropical Storm Floyd on September 8th. As the storm loomed closer to the United States’ worries, it became as what is known now as Hurricane Floyd at 8 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time on September 10th. By September 12th, Floyd turned more westward and began a large strengthening installment right above the Bahamas Islands heading straight for the Southeast tip of Florida. James Lee Witt spoke “Floyd had potential to be the worst hurricane to ever strike the East Coast. This is the first time we have ever had an evacuation that involved so many states at one time. It was my worst fear.” (Reed, J 2000). James Lee Witt at the time was the Director of Federal Emergency Management Agency and Cabinet Adviser to the President Bill Clinton. His emphasis in this storm was that of Floyd being one mile per hour less than a Category 5 Hurricane. Floyd topped at 155 miles per hour and a 27.20 inches surface pressure on September 13th. Floyd showed no signs of slowing down or
stopping headed straight for the coast of Florida. Floyd’s direct path that led forecasters and prediction centers believing everyone in those regions were going to be demolished by this menacing storm. Sirens were sounded, TVs’ volumes rose to higher volumes and emergency responders warned. Schools and courts were closed and naval ships headed to sea. Soldiers demanded island populations leave immediately for a clear out due to Floyd’s wrath.
Many National Weather Service offices forecasted and delivered warnings for threats from Floyd. National Centers that played major roles in warnings and tracking were the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC) and the Tropical Prediction Center (TPC) of the National Centers for Environmental Protection (NCEP). Weather Forecast Offices issued a total of 300 flood warnings and statements. All impacted were given either a “Special Weather Statement,” or a “Flood Potential Statement” 30 to 48 hours before any flooding began. All Weather Forecast Offices gave numerous advanced heads up calls to emergency officials 2 to 5 days before Floyd caused any sort of rainfall. (Daly, W , Baker, J ,Kelly, 2000). As all the warnings and sirens were sounded Floyd kept its pace of strength but took sudden sharp turn heading north up the coast. Floyd began to parallel Florida’s coastline 110 miles off of Cape Canaveral, Florida. Floyd increased its travel speed and showed its path leading into northern region of South Carolina and straight shot to North Carolina. (Reed, J 2000). In Florida there is an evacuation process as there is in many other regions or states. The Floridian Evacuation Process is composed of 3 phases. In the first stage, it is considered the Initial or Standby stage. This is where it is determined of the areas most affected from the storm. The next stage is the decision to evacuate is provided and therefore the Governor declares a State of Emergency. Shelters are then prepared, support organizations consolidate and prepare for the aftermath and crisis telephone lines are setup. In the third stage of the process, it is the evacuation itself. This is also called “HURREVAC.” This is a restricted use, United States computer program that is used to help coordinate evacuation of local and state regions. With all phases involved Florida evacuated with a more than vast amount. It is estimated 3.2 million Floridians, Georgians and Carolinians evacuated. One problem that was evident is that no one wanted to evacuate unless it was absolutely necessary.
Therefore orders cannot be given too early. Between the estimated 2 PM and noon the next day on Monday September 13th, 47 counties that were at risk were given the command. Many of the evacuees started beginning their evacuation within the same time period as the tens of thousands of other people. Many people were stuck in double digit hour traffic jams and more. Major interstates such as I-75, I-95, and I-10 in Florida were used for evacuation in this multistate operation. The traffic was clustered in Florida due to the major participation but included many other interstate highways like I-16 in Georgia, I-26 and I-20 which runs completely west to Texas. Participation was a factor, but preparation for a multistate evacuation for these highways was not as evident. Many were forced to remain at rest stops, strip malls, parking lots and low lying bridges during the hurricane after it had barely harmed any of Florida or Georgia. A Hurricane Program Manager at FEMA Regional IV Office in Atlanta by the name of Bill Massey noted, “Our infrastructure cannot handle an evacuation with the kind of participation that took place during Floyd.” Emergency Managers noted that the overall evacuation was a success and that what they needed was to evacuate and the participation was more than expected. The traffic coordination is where most mitigation needs to be emphasized. In the same article Robert S. Lay noted a point that led to the mass participation of evacuation. The media today has changed over the years than it has in the past. Lay stated “I think people looked at the hurricane on TV and said ‘I’m leaving!’” Robert Lay was the Director of Office of Emergency in Brevard County, Florida. Since Hurricane Andrew, Americans view on breaking news has changed. Real time news radiates into kitchens, homes, and offices. Bill Massey believes that TV coverage actually alarmed the wrong people and stirred up thousands that did not necessarily need to. A survey was created after Hurricane Floyd at the College of Charleston. David N. Sattler, a psychologist suggested that citizens actually trust local weather forecasters more than state officials. It is safe to say that media has taken a prime role in help of the evacuation but almost too much.
Needless to say, communication between state officials and local forecasters needs to be held prior to a future evacuation or hurricane. (Reed, J 2000). According to Daly, Baker, and Kelly (2000) Emergency Management Officials commended all Weather Forecast Offices on coordination efforts before and during Hurricane Floyd. Emergency officials found that flood forecasts that gave river forecasts comparisons were immensely helpful. They provided examples of how severe flooding could be. It compared to another historic flood crest and gave better insight their planning of emergency operations. Of the 57 deaths, apparently 48 were due to drowning from inland flooding. An estimated more than half of these were when vehicles were either driven into high water or were flushed away. In regards to forecast errors in distance and intensity of the hurricane were much smaller than average at every 12 hour mark, from 72 hours away. The only recommendation evident was in that local offices could change policies on releasing Flood Warnings rather than Flood Statements. Flood Warnings are more like to be acted upon in that Flood Statements are not enough to capture attention of the public in an earlier timeframe. In relevance to Axtman’s (1999) article, it’s explained that the evacuation was somewhat a success in that others declared a success in general. His reason for success was not as strong. Axtman stated the 15 hour traffic jams throughout the interstates and up to the Carolinas were and are avoidable. Some argue that reaction from the state officials should have been quicker to turn highways inland to all one-way roads, while others believed it is on the public and how they need to act quicker instead of waiting until the very last minute to evacuate or begin their procedure. Of the one-way highways Axtman described the state officials should have turned to relieve the evacuation traffic, in a newer term for it called “contraflow.” Contraflow is the process of taking numerous lanes inbound and outbound to a full on outbound evacuation to increase capacity.
The structure to set up a contraflow of traffic is very difficult, complex and much easier said than done. There is a shoulder lane that would need to be created as well as merging lanes and an emergency vehicle lane. Police, Emergency Responders and anyone involved would need to block off all oncoming traffic routes to make efficiency of the process. This practice was used in some areas to relieve the traffic jams, but with the participation involved, the process was still inefficient due to no familiarity. The practice has a high risk and requires a high cost and a large amount of manpower to get the operation established (Wolshon, B, Urbina, E, Levitan, M, 2000). The LSU study stressed that involvement in all parties needs to be increased. Previously emergency management and law enforcement led evacuations. The Governor, highways and transportation professionals have now become more involved as well as engineers to share experience in creating plans with a great deal of flexibility, efficiency and awareness. In the National Review of Hurricane Evacuation Plans and Policies the evacuation was commended on being well publicized. Some argued over the overreaction. Insufficient planning and limited coordination between various agencies were pointed out as well. Involvement from awareness within the professional transportation community in the field of evacuation was also appointed. Not only locally and within the state but interagency coordination for regional and cross state evacuations could be tuned up. One very interesting point at the Department of Transportation level was the less than adequate use of infrastructure available. (Wolshon, B, Urbina, E, Levitan, M, 2000).
In hindsight to the overall operation, with all factors, mishaps, and successes, the successes outweigh the others. The evacuation of Hurricane Floyd was eventful and upsetting due to 57 fatalities total, but for the millions in participation it has to be considered. Forecasting from offices has been commended all across emergency operations. The public cannot say that was no notice. Timely warnings were given 2-5 days before. The general idea of the meaning is to evacuate, and emergency management itself must be content with the participation. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were given notice days in advance and were also queued in traffic difficulties. Traffic with participation in numbers like these is almost inevitable but in a timely manner can successfully acquire safety to the vast majority. In future events, there are many recommendations and mitigation that can be taken into planning. Voluntary and Mandatory Evacuations could be much more detailed or complex when concerning the mass amount of people in participation. Although the United States does not want casualties, there are also measures to be taken in costs, time effectiveness, and efficiency. If an area is not in mandatory need of evacuation, let it be their choice to ride out the storm. Structurally many things can improve. Coordination between agencies not only locally but regionally or federally can improve in communication and directed jurisdiction of job emphasis per command post or police department. Exploitation of all infrastructure ability is a key point. Any sort of transportation available should be implemented considering low mobility citizens such as nursing homes or prisons. However in future forecasting and warning times, they do not want to warn too soon and create a cry wolf syndrome. This meaning, you want to keep the trust between the state officials or forecasters, wherever the trust lies. The evacuation in Florida was affected by numerous neighboring states but not one fatality was reported in the state of Florida. What needed to be done was done, and for the future U.S. Emergency Operations will be ready. From preparation and forecasting to evacuation and recovery, the evacuation due to Hurricane Floyd succeeded leaving optimism in future proposal.
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