They're back! Alberto was the first named tropical storm of the 2006 hurricane season. Nobody knows how many more will follow, how much devastation is still to come.
Gaston Hits Richmond (from August 30, 2004 courtesy of The Richmond Times Dispatch)
But anybody who went through Katrina, Rita or Wilma last year or storms like Isabel, Gaston or Floyd in seasons past knows the first and foremost rule of hurricane season - be prepared.
That's why HUD Virginia and the Virginia Association of Housing and Community Development Officials (VAHCDO) in collaboration with HUD Tampa hosted two, 2-hour teleconference calls with some 20 housing authorities across the Commonwealth of Virginia to run through the lessons learned from seasons past so that their preparedness and response plans are good to go should a storm track their way.
"With all the variables in play, you can never be fully prepared," said David Baldwin, executive director of the Bristol, Virginia housing authority and president of VAHCDO, "but you certainly can be better prepared."
Providing critical information in both teleconferences were representatives of HUD Tampa and both the Ft. Myers, Florida, and Tampa, Florida housing authorities, especially since so many of the tropical storms in recent years - seven major hurricanes in the last two years alone - have made landfall on the west coast of Florida.
Gaston Arrives (from August 30, 2004 courtesy of the National Weather Service)
"For the longest time Florida has been known as the Sunshine State," explains HUD Tampa Field Office Director Karen Jackson Sims. "But with all the storms that have swept east across the peninsula in recent years, Hurricane State is giving that moniker a real run for the money. The good news out of all the bad news these storms have brought, though, is that we are much, much better prepared."
Ms. Jackson Sims and her colleagues from authorities in Tampa and Ft. Myers provided Virginia authorities a wealth of information and reminders about what to focus on prior to a storm. Reminders about making sure that you know "who's who" in - and that you're a part of - the local emergency response apparatus. About making sure you know where your staff will be and how they will communicate if all the normal means go off-line. About making sure all the supplies are acquired, emergency shelters stocked and evacuation contingencies ready to roll. About making sure you know where to get the building supplies, heavy equipment and the funding to start recovering and rebuilding as soon as the storm has passed. About making sure your plan has covered all the bases and has been practiced - and practiced again - well before landfall.
"Like any state, Virginia sees its share of natural disasters, from hurricanes in the Tidewater to heavy rains and severe flooding in the western mountains," said Virginia Field Office Director Bill Miles. "When facing a problem or potential crisis, many organizations act as though no other organization has ever before faced that problem and they rush around essentially trying to reinvent the wheel rather than seeking out those who have already faced similar problems and challenges. Fortunately, as we prepare for this year's hurricane season, HUD Tampa and housing authorities in Florida have generously made their expertise and their experiences available to help us accelerate across the preparedness curve."