Think of a hurricane, and what usually comes to mind first are high-speed winds. However, 90% of direct hurricane-related deaths are caused by water-related injuries, including storm surge, rainfall flooding, high surf, and deaths just offshore, according to researchers at the National Hurricane Center.
“We need people to be more afraid of water,” says Rick Knabb, who until mid-May served as the director of the National Hurricane Center before taking a job at The Weather Channel as a tropics analyst.
The National Weather Service—including the National Hurricane Center—is going to be making some significant changes with the operational storm surge watch and warning in the 2017 hurricane season says Knabb.
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This year, updated warning systems will include new storm surge watches and warnings, issued 48 and 36 hours, respectively, before the onset of a predicted hurricane event with the possibility of life-threatening rising seawater washing inland. The storm surge predictions will augment the traditional tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings for wind.
“If you want to lessen the loss of life in hurricanes, you have to know what’s taking the lives,” says Knabb.
Dan Brown, a senior hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, notes that the map of potential storm surge flooding—caused by
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the forces of the storm pushing seawater on shore—will show how high water can reach and how far inland it could penetrate.
In addition to products that indicate the chances of tropical storm and hurricane-force winds at a given location, as well as storm surge flooding maps, the National Hurricane Center has another new product that will provide the earliest reasonable arrival times of tropical storm-force winds, says Brown.
“In the past, when a storm has formed very close to land—perhaps over the Bahamas or over the Gulf of Mexico—and then hit land within a day or two, we weren’t able to put up those watches and warnings until the depression actually formed,” says Brown. “Starting this year, if we have a cluster of clouds that doesn’t have enough organization, so it’s not a depression yet but we expect it to form and become a tropical storm within a day or so and hit land, we can now start writing advisories and putting out our forecasts.”
Brown says the National Hurricane Center seeks to ensure the public is prepared by the most likely time the winds will arrive.
“As a decision-maker, if you don’t want to tolerate much risk, you might want to use the earliest reasonable time to make sure all of your preparations are done,” he says.
The National Hurricane Center produces various graphics whenever there is a storm threatening that can be accessed at www.hurricanes.gov.
These changes are being rolled out in what is the 25th anniversary in August of Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane that blew through the Bahamas, Louisiana, and Florida, causing the most damage in south Florida. Wind speeds reached 165 miles per hour, leveling buildings in the Miami area to nothing but their concrete pads. More than 25,000 homes were destroyed, with another 100,000 severely damaged. Sixty-five people lost their lives. The financial damage exceeded $26.5 billion.
Many lessons have been learned since then; chief among them is the criticality of storm surge.
This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted an above-normal 2017 hurricane season with 11 to 17 tropical storms with minimum 39 mph winds, of which five to nine will become hurricanes with a minimum 74 mph winds, and two to four will be Category 3 or stronger, with a minimum of 111 mph winds.
Knabb says the National Hurricane Center’s prediction changes highlight the agency’s concern about life-threatening storm surge from the ocean—water being pushed ashore onto under normally dry ground by the winds of a tropical storm or a hurricane.
Responding to weather predictions is a critical mission for government agencies ranging from the federal to the local, especially as much of the densely populated US Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level.
Census Bureau 2010 reports show an increasing population density along the coastal areas, with a 32% increase in Gulf coastal counties, 17% increase in Atlantic coastal counties, and 16% increase in Hawaii. Additionally, 72% of ports, 27% of major roads, and 9% of rail lines within the Gulf Coast region are at or below 4 feet elevation. A storm surge of 23 feet has the ability to inundate 67% of interstates, 57% of arterials, almost half of rail miles, 29 airports, and virtually all ports in the Gulf Coast area, according to NOAA.
Nationwide, while the coastal zone represents less than 10% of the nation’s landmass, it is home to 124 million people, or 40% of the US population, and produces more than $7.9 trillion in goods and services, employs 54.6 million people, and pays $3.2 trillion in wages, according to 2014 statistics from NOAA’s Office of Coastal Management.
The new storm surge watch and warning is important not only because storm surge historically is the most deadly hurricane hazard of all, but also because storm surge doesn’t always happen in the same places or the same times as hurricane-force winds, “so you need a separate storm surge warning separate from the hurricane warning,” says Knabb.
“Flooding is not just a coastal event, but an inland problem as well with heavy rainfall,” says Knabb.
“A lot of times people are getting into their cars on water-covered roadways,” he says. “They’re driving around barriers onto closed roads that have water on them. We’re losing too many people that way.”
Residents need to find out whether they live in a hurricane evacuation zone because the storm surge hazard is the primary reason the National Hurricane Center evacuates for hurricanes in the US, says Knabb, adding that those in storm surge-prone areas need to take shelter inland away from flood-prone areas and wind.
“We talk a lot about water being a problem if there is too much or too little or not good enough quality,” points out Knabb. “Water obviously keeps us all alive, but water can kill when a hurricane pushes it around and we get too much flooding over normally dry ground.
“That not only has an impact on personal safety, it damages infrastructures. It can cause all kinds of problems that can not only occur on the day the hurricane comes by but can last for days and weeks afterward in these communities. Infrastructures take time to recover.”
Photos: Carol Brzozowski
The Hurricane Hunters
A major part of the prediction process is conducted by hurricane hunters. There are two groups of hurricane hunters: those affiliated with NOAA and others with the US Air Force.
Major Kendall Dunn is an Air Force pilot on the Lockheed WC-130, a high-wing, medium-range aircraft used for weather reconnaissance missions. The military aircraft has removable computers and other equipment, in contrast to the fixed nature of the NOAA aircraft equipment.
“Our main mission is to find the center of the hurricane, the actual fix of it,” says Dunn, adding that the crew also pays heed to rainfall amounts, wind speed, and tides.
NOAA hurricane hunters fly in the Lockheed WP-3D Orion, which is used for severe storm research, says Lt. Robert Mitchell of the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center. The NOAA WP-3D standard crew of 18 to 20 includes two pilots, one navigator, one flight director/meteorologist, one flight engineer, one electronics engineer, two electronics technicians, and additional aircrew, scientists, and observers.
Meteorological instrumentation includes equipment to measure air and dewpoint temperature, static and dynamic pressure, and wind direction and speed; radar and GPS altimeters; and a GPS dropwindsonde for vertical profile of wind, temperature, pressure, and humidity.
Radar instrumentation includes C-Band 180 degrees from the nose, C-Band 360-degree scan from the lower fuselage, and X-Band 360-degree scan from the tail Doppler.
Cloud physics instrumentation provides liquid water measurement, hydrometeor size spectrum, and cloud droplet spectrum.
The NOAA plane has stickers on its belly, depicting the weather events through
which it has fl own and the countries.
Infrared radiation sensors measure sea surface and air temperatures as well as solar and terrestrial radiation.
Other research instrumentation includes a nose radome gust probe, atmospheric gas samplers, Ku-Band/C-Band scatterometers, stepped-frequency microwave radiometer, video cameras, airborne/air expendable bathythermograph, and Iridium and Inmarsat satellite communications.
Mitchell says that although NOAA’s aircraft is primarily tasked with hurricane research in the summertime, it is employed year-round for monitoring other water-producing weather-related events.
“In the wintertime, we’ll go on other winter storm projects, primarily up on the New England coast. We’ll look at some of the winter storms—the nor’easters that can go through there—and how those form and dissipate over the ocean, in addition to any other research projects such as tornado research or thunderstorm research during the off season,” he says.
One such instance is the major flooding that can occur during spring snowmelt.
NOAA operates Twin Otters and Turbo Commanders with gamma radiation detectors to fly over the continental US during the summer, collecting baseline information.
“In wintertime after major snowstorms, they’ll fly over the same areas and, with that gamma radiation detector, can determine how much water is in that snow and when that snow melts—depending on how quickly it melts and when it melts—that could lead to floods in the Midwest,” says Mitchell.
The airplanes are constantly tasked with trying to monitor those conditions, and warnings are issued if and when local rivers are potentially going to flood, he adds.
Anticipating the Risks
The National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service work with emergency managers, first responders, government officials, and all kinds of organizations at the national, state, and local levels to prepare for the hurricane threat in real time—to prepare infrastructure, keep people safe, survive the event, and enable people in the communities to recover as quickly as possible in the aftermath, notes Knabb.
“Planning ahead of time for these kinds of water disasters is so important because when people think about hurricanes, they tend to think about big wind machines,” he says. “Wind can be damaging, it can be deadly because water is so much heavier than people realize. We urge anyone whose profession concerns water in any way to be planning ahead. Don’t think it won’t be happening in your community.”
An Air Force pilot giving schoolchildren
a tour of the military plane that fl ies into
the eye of the hurricane
Knabb says in his years of interacting with those responsible for keeping communities and infrastructure safe, he has seen the importance of being cognizant of risk in advance: “Is your community, your facility, your home vulnerable to storm surge? What is your level of vulnerability to inland flooding? Are you near a river? What is the past history of flooding in the area, realizing that in inland areas, if it can rain where you live, it can flood where you live?”
It’s important to differentiate saltwater ocean storm surge risk from inland flooding, he notes. “We have storm surge evacuation zones that emergency managers have prescribed with help from the Hurricane Center’s input on what the vulnerability is—there are storm surge evacuation zones that show where the storm surge could occur. There also are flood insurance rate maps that depict the relative risk of inland flooding. You have to take that knowledge of what you are vulnerable to and what the risk is and turn that into a plan of action, and then you can act in real time not only to get through the storm,but to recover in the aftermath. People often forget how nasty the aftermath of a flood can be.”
When watches and warnings are issued, stormwater managers throughout the affected areas start going into high gear.
Case in point: the city of Fort Lauderdale’s Stormwater Operations Section is tasked with maintaining and working on improvements to the city’s stormwater infrastructure, which encompasses 171 miles of stormwater pipe, 2,324 manholes, 1,258 outfalls, 37 drainage wells, and 8,288 catch basins. Its system of 115 miles of interconnected canals garnered the city the nickname “Venice of America,” and although the canals provide aesthetic value for properties located on them, they also serve to receive stormwater runoff from adjacent city streets. That can create a challenge for stormwater management during hurricanes.
“When a storm is expected in our area, our stormwater operations team monitors wind speed and anticipated storm surge to gauge the potential impact to our community, particularly in the more vulnerable, low-lying areas,” notes Shannon Vezina, assistant public affairs manager.
The team responds by taking proactive steps to ensure they have the necessary equipment and staff available to coordinate an effective response once the storm has passed, she adds.
“It is also important to coordinate with the South Florida Water Management District and local drainage districts in an effort to maximize our stormwater capacity and minimize the impact of the anticipated storm surge or rainfall,” says Vezina.
Taking Evacuation Warnings Seriously
Convincing the public to heed warnings and watches can be a challenge. People can sometimes get complacent about them, especially when a weather event doesn’t turn out to be as severe as predicted.
Although the National Hurricane Center produces a cone graphic, “unfortunately, the cone doesn’t tell you where the impacts of the storm are going to be,” notes Brown. “The cone only tells you about where the center of the hurricane could track; strong winds and storm surge extend well away from the center.
“That’s why we’ve tried to steer decision-makers away from the cone,” he adds. “It’s a great tool to get a first look at where the storm might be going, whom it might be impacting, and look at where those watches and warnings are.”
On either side of the aisle in the NOAA plane, crew members work in cubicles collecting scientifi c data as they fly through the weather event.
Acknowledging the wide range of predictive storm models available, Knabb points out that “human hurricane forecasters need to have a collection of reliable computer forecast models to depend on for guidance. Unless any model is perfect and you can take that forecast to the bank, humans are going to have to analyze the various model possibilities, putting forth not only an official forecast but also a depiction of what the reasonable possibilities are in terms of what wind and what water could occur in any given community, so people have something to act on.”
Forecasts are “useless” unless they are communicated to somebody, understood, and acted upon to keep people safe and to take action that mitigates damage, enabling people to quickly recover, says Knabb.
“We use up to a dozen or so reliable computer forecast models in real time, but none of them is right every time,” he says, adding that forecasters take into account various models’ idiosyncrasies and make a decision from the collective input.
A reluctance to leave animals behind is another reason why people stay behind in evacuation zones. (See the sidebar on page 36, “Providing Shelter for Pets, Too.”)
“We try to remove any friction points from that evacuation, so whatever the excuse is for not evacuating, we try to mitigate that,” says Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “If it’s pets, we’ll have pet-friendly shelters. If they don’t want to leave because they’re afraid they’re not going to get back to inspect their home, we’re doing everything we can to get the bridges and roads back open as quickly as possible. We’ll have additional security.
“We focus on life safety. We really want people to heed evacuation notices, because not only are they putting themselves at risk, but they are putting first responders at risk as well,” adds Koon. “We’re constantly working on understanding what motivates people to stay and find ways to convince them to go.”
Better Predictions, Better Preparation
Meanwhile, research is being conducted at US universities to help agencies refine the weather prediction process and respond accordingly.
For example, hurricane predictions could be further refined as a result of a study by scientists from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and the NOAA Hurricane Research Division, which found a new way to monitor the intensity and location of hurricanes from hundreds of miles away by detecting atmospheric waves radiating from the centers of these powerful storms.
Through observations of the waves obtained by NOAA aircraft flying in hurricanes and by a research buoy located in the Pacific Ocean, it was found that the atmospheric gravity waves produced by strong thunderstorms near the eye radiate outward
in expanding spirals.
The subtle waves can sometimes be seen in satellite images, says David Nolan, professor in the university’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences and lead author of the study. He says researchers were able to measure the waves with aircraft data and surface instruments.
Computer simulations performed at the UM Center for Computational Science can reproduce the waves, showing that the wave strengths can be related to the maximum wind speed in the core of the storm, says Nolan.
The findings suggest hurricanes and typhoons could be monitored from hundreds of miles away with relatively inexpensive instruments such as barometers and anemometers, much as earthquakes from around the world are monitored by seismometers.
The researchers analyzed data obtained from 25 different penetrations by NOAA P-3 aircraft into five hurricanes in 2003 and 2004, as well as data from the Extreme Air-Sea Interaction buoy deployed in the Pacific Ocean by UM Rosenstiel School scientists in 2010.
“The waves cause very weak upward and downward motions, which are recorded by the NOAA P-3 as it flies through the storm,” says Jun Zhang of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division. “But we were surprised at how clearly the waves could be detected at the surface.”
While hurricanes are very well observed by satellites, the waves can reveal processes occurring in the eyewall of a hurricane that are obscured from the view of satellites by thick clouds, says Nolan, adding that any additional measurements—even if they provide similar information as that from the satellites—can lead to better forecasts.
At Florida International University (FIU) in Miami—which shares its campus with the National Weather Service Miami and the National Hurricane Center—research is being conducted in which “we collaborate with them in improving the track and intensity of the storm, and we also work with the National Hurricane Center in forecasting storm surge—how much water may come up on the beaches when a storm approaches,” notes Erik Salna, associate director and meteorologist with the FIU Extreme Events Institute and the International Hurricane Research Center.
The university’s Wind Engineering program features the Wall of Wind. “It’s the strongest research facility in the world where we can create Category 5 hurricane conditions to test structures, build better, build stronger, and enhance the building codes so that when the next storm comes, we are in a safer environment, rather than see a building or a home fall apart due to the wind,” says Salna.
The process includes testing communication towers and signal lights, “because all of that is part of the infrastructure that is going to be hit when a hurricane comes,” says FIU student Melody Gonzalez. She is the civil engineering lead of the Engineers on Wheels program. The program has a van that is retrofitted with educational materials and taken into the community to teach schoolchildren about hurricane preparations.
“We’ve come a long way since Hurricane Andrew,” points out Salna. “The building codes have improved, and we know through research
—including the Wall of Wind—that a hip roof is better than a flat roof. We know that if you protect the building envelope with metal, code-approved hurricane shutters on all of your windows and install a stronger garage door, that these actually work. We also know simple approaches like metal hurricane straps that tie down the roof to the wall and wall to the foundation go a long way to making a home much stronger against a hurricane wind.”
Although there are many elements in a hurricane plan, a major component is coping when the power goes out, says Salna. A whole-house generator helps residents ride out power outages with ease.
For the business community and government agencies, “it is so critical to think of power and what their needs and services are for the community, such as supermarkets and gas stations,” he adds. “They have portable generators they have to keep up and running to pump gas or to run a credit card.”
Salna credits government agencies and stormwater managers for their orchestrated expertise in knowing which way to take water volumes, depending on the size of the storm coming in.
“It’s amazing what they do, but it’s certainly something they have to do because in south Florida, we’re barely above sea level,” he says. “All of this water piles up, and what are you going to do with it? It’s a big mission and a big job, but it’s so critical to the community.”
Another aspect of hurricane preparedness is the ability to communicate with people who speak languages other than English. FIU has collaborated with the National Hurricane Center to produce a Spanish-language website featuring
up-to-date hurricane information.
Speaking to whether he foresees the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—or drones—in gathering information for severe weather events, Knabb says that although weather scientists are “very interested” in seeing how UAVs evolve, manned aircraft will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future.
“The hurricane hunters from the Air Force and NOAA fly into and around hurricanes because they can go exactly where we need them to go when we need them to go there,” he says. “While unmanned vehicles aren’t able quite to do that, they can linger in places that aren’t safe for a manned aircraft to linger and can collect data in ways that a manned aircraft can’t. I see the ideal path forward being a combination of the manned and unmanned aircraft, because neither platform can do it all.”
Knabb says despite the progress in recent years on developing new storm surge warnings, “we’re not done educating people about that hazard,” he says. “The products are going to be modified going forward for the deadliest hurricane hazard of all—storm surge—but we need to apply the next plan of attack for the inland flooding problem—the heavy rainfall problem. As Hurricane Matthew showed us, we need to give more visibility to the inland flood problem in real time by highlighting that, giving more visibility to local weather service flash flood watches and warnings.”
The Weather Prediction Center—which in conjunction with the National Hurricane Center is a service center of the National Weather Service—has an Excessive Rainfall Outlook that can identify, before raindrops start falling, an area that is at a high risk of a deadly flood event, notes Knabb.
“We have to give visibility to all of those products in real time, but we have to do a lot of work ahead of time while the weather is good to convince people to be more afraid of the water in the first place—not to drive their cars through water-covered roadways and to get flood insurance so they survive the event and also recover in the aftermath.”
He points out there is a lot of work yet to do regarding storm surge, inland flooding, improved modeling, and improved understanding for those who manage communities and facilities. The goal is “to account for uncertainties in real time about what could happen in that community or facility, and to make sure everybody’s plans are robust in both the public and private sectors.”
MY STAY AT A RED CROSS SHELTER
By Carol Brzozowski
My ex-husband and I had barely been in our first house in south Florida for a year after its purchase when the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew blew through town. It was several years before I started writing for Stormwater magazine, but it was a real-life lesson for me on the power of such weather events to wreak havoc.
It also was a lesson on the resiliency of properties—and, more importantly, people.
We were without power for three weeks and, consequently, I was out of work for three weeks. We enjoyed camping, so we had plenty of propane tanks to cook on our Coleman stove. I stood in long lines in a local sports field where the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) distributed jugs of water and vouchers for non-perishable food at the local grocery store.
But we were the fortunate ones. When we finally got power restored, we saw on television the devastating images of the loss of lives and property south of us in the Miami area.
Fast-forward to 2016: Hurricane Matthew was approaching in late September as a Category 5 hurricane. Now single, I lived in the same house that had withstood Hurricane Andrew and subsequent weather events. I had raised two sons who were now at college in Florida cities that also were within the cone of a possible strike. I knew their universities would be providing decent shelter for the students. But I wasn’t quite sure about my own home.
And this time, I had a dog I had recently adopted.
One of the reasons people do not vacate their properties in evacuation zones is because they are reticent to leave their animals behind. I am not in an official coastal evacuation zone (these zones are established for flooding), but my house isn’t what I would deem 100% hurricane-proof.
Shoring up a house against hurricane-force winds can be a costly business. By this time, I had a new roof on the house, but hurricane-proof windows are expensive, so I did the best I could to put up aluminum shutters and bring inside the house anything that could become a projectile. Even though we’re about 9 miles from the Atlantic Ocean coast, some people in my area also put sandbags around their homes to protect against potential flooding.
Here in Broward County, FL, there is a pet-friendly shelter at a middle school, a collaborative effort between the Humane Society of Broward County and the local chapter of the American Red Cross. Although it is primarily for those living in an evacuation zone, last year, I took refuge there with my dog when the shelter was opened up to a wider geographic area.
I put together a sleeping bag, pillow, a few snacks, my laptop, a book, and food for my dog and headed to the shelter. Although Hurricane Matthew barely spit on our area (that’s the way it goes sometimes), I spent what turned out to be a delightful night meeting new people, playing board games with strangers, eating school cafeteria food, and chatting it up with police officers, paramedics, and Red Cross volunteers. We’d gather around the TV in the school cafeteria to watch the storm’s track; I was concerned not only for my own area but also whether the hurricane might come close to hitting where my sons lived (it didn’t).
The dogs were housed in individual crates in the gymnasium. The cats and assorted other pets were in crates in a separate room. The humans were set up in the school cafeteria with special consideration for those with disabilities.
The next day—disaster averted—I packed up my belongings and headed home.
PROVIDING SHELTER FOR PETS, TOO
By Carol Brzozowski
Recently I interviewed Sharon Carmichael, an animal cruelty investigator who heads up the efforts for Broward County’s pet-friendly shelter, to ask her about the logistics involved in providing shelter for people with pets.
It was Hurricane Katrina that inspired national action for providing pet-friendly emergency shelters. Thousands of people were estimated to have refused to evacuate because they were unwilling to leave their dogs or cats behind. Many of those people died. Others did evacuate, leaving behind hundreds of abandoned dogs and cats found in the area after the floodwaters receded.
As a result, the federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act was passed in 2006, directing FEMA’s administrator to develop emergency preparedness plans that encompass the needs of individuals with pets and service animals during major disasters or emergencies. More than 30 states adopted either laws or administrative plans for disaster planning that includes pets.
“We got all excited about the law, thinking it was going to be very good for the animals,” says Carmichael. “The law started out really strong, and by the time it was actually put into place, it said either ‘shall’ or ‘should’ consider—it didn’t have the backbone we hoped it would.”
Broward County has been a national leader in the effort to provide pet-friendly shelters, notes Carmichael. The first one was established in 2005 after four hurricanes came across Florida in 2004, bringing “forty-four straight days of disaster in the state,” she points out.
“That’s when our county commission decided we needed to do something right before Katrina even came,” she says. “I had been trying to do this since Hurricane Andrew happened, and for years we would contact emergency management groups; they were in favor of it but didn’t have the resources.”
Broward County’s emergency shelters are mostly schools, and there had been resistance to the idea of putting animals in a school shelter, says Carmichael. Yet shelter workers were aware that when people came to take shelter, many were leaving their dogs and cats in their cars.
“That caused more concern for everybody because the shelter workers knew those animals were out there,” says Carmichael.
There also had been resistance to the idea because emergency managers didn’t want to mix animals with people who might be allergic to them. However, proponents argued that the only people who would be in the pet-friendly shelters would be people with pets. The local Red Cross was onboard with the idea, but not the national Red Cross, says Carmichael.
“They weren’t allowed to do it,” she says of the local chapter. “After years of back and forth, I pretty much gave up on it. After the 2005 decision by our county commission, we were approached by our local emergency management, school board, and county animal control groups to see if we could put something together.”
By that time, the local Red Cross got the green light from the national organization, and Broward County then became the first in the country to work with the Red Cross on providing pet-friendly shelters, says Carmichael.
“In a lot of areas, schools serve as shelters, but they refuse to let animals in,” she says. “Pet-friendly shelters across the country are all in different types of places. A lot of places allow you to sleep with your animal in the same room. It just comes down to what your logistics are.
“I know in of a lot of places they can’t get a structure that is considered hurricane safe, and they almost put themselves in danger because they are working with buildings that are not secure enough, but they’re desperate enough to try to do anything.”
Carmichael recommends that municipalities start by working with the local emergency management officials.
“Don’t reinvent the wheel,” she says. “We based our entire pet-friendly shelter [concept] on a small shelter in Ocala, FL. They literally were only given one hallway in a school. They had the resources of having the sheriff’s office prisoners to help them set up. They got all their crates and stored them in massive trailers so that when the storm was coming, they just had to notify the sheriff’s office to get them there.
“They went in the school hallway and rolled out plastic up one wall, across the floor, and up the other wall so they couldn’t be accused of damaging anything or leaving something there that shouldn’t be there. We quickly learned you have to put some rubber mats on that plastic or you’re going to have a mess.”
Individual crates are lined up. A processing system is established for intake, and cats and dogs are segregated. “If it’s a really small place, your cats are not going to be happy campers,” notes Carmichael.
“When it ends, you take all of that stuff back in, roll up the plastic, and you’re done. We’ve ended doing the same thing, except the school gym we use is the size of most junior college gyms. We’re lucky to have that and not to be scrunched in a space that would be detrimental to the animals or the people.”
The Humane Society of Broward County starts the hurricane season by going through old supplies so that by the time the organization goes into action for a hurricane, everything is up to date, including having fresh perishable food for the animals, says Carmichael.
“Everything is on wheeled shelves because you can put it up into the back of a truck. You have to keep in mind that you literally have to open a second shelter. Everything you need at your main facility, you’re also going to need at this pet-friendly shelter, just in much smaller quantities,” she says.
The Humane Society of Broward County stores its supplies, including crates, in a warehouse. Carmichael found she had to purchase new air mattresses for the staff, as the older ones had deteriorated in the warehouse.
The organization also has open communications with emergency management “so that when all of the behind-the-scenes warnings go out that they haven’t released to the public yet, we know on a timeline when we’re going to be due to be open. From the time they tell us they need us at the schools the next day, it takes us an hour and a half to load the truck and maybe another hour and a half to two hours to unload once it gets to the school,” says Carmichael.
Meanwhile, a school cafeteria employee shows up to help feed people, joined by law enforcement officers and paramedics, all of whom ride out the storm together with those seeking shelter with their animals.
It’s then a matter of wait and see—not only on the weather, but also to learn what unknown quantity of people and animals will show up.
“Sometimes you get people who are there when you get there,” says Carmichael. “Sometimes it might take eight to 10 hours before anybody comes. Sometimes nobody comes.”
In the intake area, those working at the shelter take photos of the incoming animals and assign them to crates. Animals that present an aggressive demeanor are placed in crates further away from the others. “We’ve never had an incident since 2005,” notes Carmichael. Pet owners will occasionally visit their pets throughout the duration of the weather event to walk them or socialize with them.
The staff sometimes deals with people who think they can drop their pets off and then leave to stay elsewhere, or with people who stay at the shelter and then try to leave without their animals. Neither scenario is permitted.
While some Humane Society workers stay at the shelter, others stay behind at the main facility to care for the animals still up for adoption. “Everyone has to step up to the plate,” says Carmichael. “If you’re an administrator, we’re going to teach you how to feed cats that day.”
Carmichael concedes that setting up a pet-friendly shelter can get “extremely” expensive. “We got the crates through a grant when we first got them,” she says. There are 350 crates, costing a total of $56,000. The shelter is limited to 350 animals and 500 people. The materials have to be stored when not in use, as the year-round animal shelter does not have sufficient storage space.
“Financially, it’s a burden for us, because we run this for our local animal control,” says Carmichael. “We don’t have a lot of staffing to begin with. Hopefully, somebody will step up eventually and give us a little bit of funding to at least cover the cost of salaries and things like that.
“It’s also stressful, especially for non-profits,” she adds. “You trained someone last year to work through the storm and they are gone the next year, so you have a bunch more newbies you’ve got to put in there.”
Although the pet-friendly shelters are meant for those living in evacuation zones, “that’s the furthest thing from my mind because if someone doesn’t feel comfortable where they are, they are welcome with their animals,” says Carmichael.
She recalls one instance in which an elderly woman who lived in a mobile home outside the evacuation area took refuge in a bathroom with her three cats to ride out the storm. The mobile home collapsed in the center.
The Humane Society also helps pet owners get up to date on vaccinations so the animals can take shelter, says Carmichael.
While some deployments are just for a night, others can last longer depending on the severity of the weather event. Carmichael ensures that extra food is available. The Humane Society also helps people who discover after the storm that their home is no longer habitable by placing their pets elsewhere while they get on their feet and find housing.
Establishing a pet-friendly shelter “is financially a lot bigger than people could ever imagine,” she points out. “But it’s definitely a worthwhile thing to do. It makes you feel good when you help somebody.”