Survey: Coastal residents complacent after quiet 2009 storm season - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Survey: Coastal residents complacent after quiet 2009 Hurricane Season

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL (WLOX) - A new National Hurricane Survival Initiative poll of coastal residents in nine states reveals a frighteningly high level of complacency after the relatively quiet 2009 hurricane season. 

Among residents from Virginia to Texas who live within 30 miles of the coast: 

  • 45 percent said they don't feel vulnerable to a hurricane or related tornado or flooding
  • 47 percent have no hurricane survival kit
  • 13 percent said they might not or would not evacuate even if ordered to leave, yet nearly half live in evacuation zones.

In the U.S., the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season brought nine tropical storms, three becoming hurricanes, two of which were major hurricanes with winds exceeding 125 mph. Tropical Storm Claudette was the only storm to make landfall on the U.S. mainland, causing minor wind and water damage during its brief tenure off Florida's west coast.

Officials warn residents can't afford to let their guard down after last year's less active than normal season and urge coastal and inland residents to create a family disaster plan; stock a hurricane survival kit containing at least a three-day's supply of food, water and medicine for each family member; make sure their homeowner's insurance coverage is adequate, and gather important documents.

"Tropical weather of any kind is serious business and we all need to get ready now. Don't wait until a storm enters the Gulf to be prepared," said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

"The time to prepare for hurricane season is now, and every family, business, school and community should feel an urgency to get ready," said Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

A shocking 74 percent of those surveyed have taken no steps to make their homes stronger, and 36 percent have no family disaster plan. 

"As important as it is to prepare before a storm, it is just as vital to stay out of harm's way after a storm. Too many deaths occur in the aftermath of a storm when conditions are still dangerous," said Max Mayfield, WPLG Hurricane Specialist and former director of the National Hurricane Center. "Not heeding emergency official's warnings may put you and your family in the path of danger from flooding, downed power lines and damaged infrastructures."

The National Hurricane Survival Initiative uses the poll as one of the leading elements in a public education and safety outreach campaign, developed through a partnership among, the National Emergency Management Association, The Salvation Army, and the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University and with technical assistance from the National Hurricane Center. The initiative's corporate partner is Plylox™: Plylox and plywood: The recipe for protection.

"Now in it's fifteenth year, the National Hurricane Survival Initiative continues to forge a partnership between the public and private sectors to better prepare millions of Americans for hurricane season," said Ron Sachs, Executive Producer of the National Hurricane Survival Initiative. "The unfortunate reality is that people need to be reminded and pushed every year to take necessary steps to stay safe."

Other elements of the initiative include an interactive website, HurricaneSafety.org and a 30-minute television program, "Get Ready, America! The National Hurricane Survival Test" The television program will be broadcast throughout hurricane season on 55 television network-affiliate stations and secondary broadcasts on cable and government access channels from Texas to Maine. The program also is available commercial-free to public schools throughout the region.

"As we approach the beginning of the 2010 hurricane season, we must remain vigilant and take this time to prepare our families and assist our neighbors in getting ready," said David Halstead, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "Unfortunately, as Hurricane Andrew reminded us in 1992 it only takes one hurricane to make it a bad season."

KNOWLEDGE GAPS

The survey revealed residents of hurricane-vulnerable states still have significant gaps in their knowledge of hurricanes and storm preparedness, including:

  • 56 percent didn't know that storm surge represents the greatest potential for a large loss of life from a hurricane, yet storm surge can account for deaths as far inland as 20 miles.
  • 95 percent didn't know that garage doors are the structural component most likely to fail during a hurricane. Property owners can easily strengthen garage doors at low cost with a reinforcement kit.
  • 39 percent didn't know that the most interior room of the house is the safest place to ride out a hurricane. One-third of the respondents believe the basement is the safest place to ride out a hurricane. In fact, the basement poses a serious risk of drowning in the event of storm surge or flooding.

INSURANCE CONCERNS

The poll revealed several concerns about the adequacy of homeowners' insurance coverage:

  • 27 percent said they were not sure or not at all confident they had the right type and amount of insurance coverage to rebuild their home as it currently stands. Experts say these findings mean there is a significant risk that many residents would not have sufficient coverage to rebuild if they suffered a catastrophic loss.
  • 51 percent said their homeowner's policy does not cover damage caused by a flood and another 8 percent were not sure if their policy covered flood damage. In fact, flood damage is excluded from all homeowner's policies. Damage from flooding is only covered if homeowners purchase federal flood insurance from the government.
  • 48 percent of the respondents live in an evacuation zone, yet the same percentage do not have an inventory listing of all the contents of their home. Experts recommend creating an inventory of your personal belongings with videotape, photos or a written list and then storing it in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box.

PRE- AND POST-EVACUATION RISKS

For the few that would evacuate, many would go too far and return too soon.

  • One in four would evacuate as far as possible, trying to outrun the path of the storm. Instead, emergency officials say residents should only go as far as necessary to get to a secure structure outside the evacuation zone.
  • 40 percent would not leave if a major storm approached their area or they would wait for local officials to order then to evacuate.
  • 21 percent would leave only 12-24 hours before the landfall of a major storm, increasing the chances of evacuation gridlock and the likelihood of evacuees riding out a storm in one of the most vulnerable locations -- on the road.
  • 18 percent said they would return as soon as the storm passed. However, more deaths typically occur after a hurricane due to downed power lines, unstable trees and flooding.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. conducted the survey of 625 adults in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states between Virginia and Texas by telephone May 11 through May 13, 2010. Those interviewed all lived within 30 miles of the coast. The margin for error is plus or minus 4 percent. For the full poll results and more information about the 2010 National Hurricane Survival Initiative, visit HurricaneSafety.org.

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