The United States is improving the way it responds to hurricanes - a good sign since climate change and the associated warming of the oceans will increase these types of events. Preparation kept the deaths in Florida and Texas to only 85 people.
It could have been worse and in times past,it would have been. The effects from Irma were felt all the way up to Charleston,S.C. where high tide and Irma led to some of the worst flooding since Hurricane Hugo in 1989. In Georgia 1.2 million people were without electricity as of yesterday. In Jacksonville,the combination of storm surge,high tides,and heavy rainfall is still causing major flooding. 25% of the homes in the Florida Keys were destroyed and almost every home saw damage of some kind. 13 people lost their lives in Florida and there still is widespread outage of power and a shortage of gas.
Two events led to this change of mindset among politicians.
The initiating event was the September 11,2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Pennsylvania. That event kickstarted a change in how the government coordinated disaster response. It brought us the Department of Homeland Security which has overseen the training of emergency crews in even the smallest communities and coordinated communication between all levels of government officials.
The second event, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, brought to the forefront just how devastating natural disasters could be - especially from floodwater,something that had always been secondary to the idea of wind being the greatest threat.
The impetus for change started before 9/11. As far back as the Clinton administration,there was an awareness that FEMA was not adequately funded to meet any disaster. But it was these events that spurred politicians to actually have the political will to make changes and those changes effected how we started training people to respond to these occurrences.
That in turn has led to improvements in weather forecasting,evacuation policy and building codes and regulations in hurricane prone areas. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992,South Florida overhauled their building codes which forced developers to build structures that could withstand hurricane force winds. After Tropical Storm Allison in 2001,Houston's Texas Medical Center,the world's largest medical complex,installed flood doors and installed their generators up high enough to remain out of any flood waters.
There was also the fact that we now have devices such as the iPhone and internet which kept the general public better connected and informed than in times past.
So now we have better resources to deal with such storms,but are faced with larger numbers of people in these areas that need to be evacuated when our advanced technology informs us we are about to experience a killer hurricane.
In Houston and Florida,government officials approached that dilemma with two divergent responses. Houston was not facing a storm surge issue where they knew what areas would be flooded. They just faced heavy rains everywhere which is why they decided it would be safer to have people shelter in place.
In Florida,Gov. Rick Scott faced not only rising waters where you can tell people to go up in their dwellings and wait it out. You had a wind factor on top of a storm surge. That made those dwellings not safe regardless of how high you went in them. So Scott made the decision to mass evacuate. Both the correct calls.
And we are still evolving that response.