Volume 3 Number 16
April 17, 2006

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The national emergency management community gathered in Orlando for the 28th Annual National Hurricane Conference this past week. After the record-breaking season of 2005, interest is high on the topic of hurricanes, drawing 2,000 participants - emergency managers, first responders, forecasters, public officials, insurers, businesspeople, health-care specialists, volunteers and the news media. These front-line citizens who help communities prepare, endure and recover from hurricanes get together to discuss what went right and wrong in the past season to do better the next time.

Meteorologists planned for improved computer models to predict storms, noted that the public doesn't always heed warnings or respond to forecasts, and encouraged officials to make the public more aware that storm-surge can cause a threat equal to wind damage and potentially be more life-threatening.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield provided an overview of the past season, recapping storms’ paths and what made each storm unique. For instance, Wilma had the lowest recorded pressure and Stan killed more than 2,000 people in Mexico and Central America. Dennis struck the Florida Panhandle at the same place Hurricane Ivan hit the year before.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff discussed where natural disasters fit in the overall planning of homeland security and discussed top-priority reforms in emergency response to be completed by the June 1 start of hurricane season. U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen explained what happened in New Orleans after the levees broke, from initial rescue operations to draining the city of water. Federal Emergency Management Agency Acting Director R. David Paulison reviewed FEMA’s response to the 2005 hurricanes and how the agency will adapt in the future.

The American Red Cross said this hurricane season it is going to dramatically increase its pre-positioned supplies in hurricane-prone areas well ahead of time. The group will also have enough food and water in place to serve 1 million meals a day, and plans to increase both its call center capacity and Internet technology to help get financial assistance out to hurricane victims more quickly.  Following Hurricane Katrina, the Red Cross assisted more than 1.3 million families with financial assistance and served 50 million meals.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate discussed Florida’s response to the continuing threat from hurricanes and the state’s experience helping its neighboring states following Katrina.

Law enforcement officials discussed evacuation and first responder problems. Meteorologists brought out the problems they have forecasting a storm’s course, strength and storm surge. Insurance officials talked about the pressures of insuring homes within across the states. Speakers addressed the problems in providing long-term housing for many displaced people.

There is an ongoing debate among experts on whether the recent upswing in the number of strong hurricanes is part of the natural cycle or a result of global warming – a debate has captured the interest of the hurricane-tired public.

As with every hurricane conference, William Gray, the respected hurricane forecaster from Colorado State University, offered his forecast for the coming season, predicting 17 named storms, nine hurricanes and five intense hurricanes. The 2005 season had 27 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes.

Florida’s emergency managers are prepared due to first-hand experience with storms in the state. It is the responsibility of each Floridian to be prepared for the upcoming season,  taking the time to assess your own situation, making specific plans for what to do when a storm approaches, and stocking up on food, medicine and survival items well in advance. Have immediate emergency supplies on hand, such as water, batteries and non-perishable food, to last at least 72 hours.

Know your homeowners' policy details. Talk to your agent about your policy and determine if you have enough coverage to rebuild your home in case of disaster. The cost of rebuilding in your area may now be higher.