Digital Media Center
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Gate 61
920 Paul Bryant Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0370
(800) 654-4262

© 2024 Alabama Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
WHIL is off the air and WUAL is broadcasting on limited power. Engineers are aware and working on a solution.
Alabama Shakespeare Festival Enter for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Educating "hurricane rookies"


The 2019 hurricane season is just over a month old and no major hurricanes have formed. This year’s forecast from Colorado State University calls for six hurricanes and two of them growing into major storms. Along the Alabama coast, the concern among emergency managers is an apparent lack of preparedness among residents. APR Gulf Coast reporter Guy Busby has our story…

On a sunny summer afternoon, children play in the surf and white sand at Gulf Shores. It’s a routine day, but this is where Hurricane Ivan made landfall in 2004. Since then, the population of Baldwin County has increased by more than one third, another 50,000 people.

“We are the fastest growing county in the state at this time,” says Jenni Guerry. She’s the logistics and education outreach coordinator for the Baldwin County Emegency Management Agency. “And we realize that many of our newcomers may not have experience with hurricanes and what would be necessary in order to prepare their families, prepare their pets, prepare their property so we want to help them do that.”

Credit APR's Guy Busby
Baldwin County Emergency Operations Center

Last year’s Category 5 Hurricane Michael was a reminder. It hit next door in the Florida Panhandle. That storm was a reminder that it’s only a matter of time before it’s Alabama’s turn, and disaster officials are working to get plans and the population ready.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” says Brandon Franklin, emergency coordinator for the city of Gulf Shores. “It’s been so long since we’ve had a storm, one of my things as emergency management coordinator, I don’t want everyone to get complacent and I feel we’re getting there. We’ve got our houses now being constructed to meet 160-mile per hour wind. Well, I don’t want people to feel confident that ‘Hey, I’ve got a new house, it’s going to withstand these hurricane force winds’ and hopefully it will, but I don’t want to put anybody in any kind of danger.”

Credit PIxaBAY

Franklin said it’s difficult for some to imagine or recall just what a hurricane like Ivan can do. “It was amazing,” he recalls. “It was absolutely amazing to know how much force Mother Nature could put, how much destruction she could cause in an area. When you’ve got a house that was completely together yet the wind may have taken it and just moved it off the pilings or off the beach and it’d be sitting across the road or even houses in the lagoon.”

Before the start of the 2019 hurricane season, emergency officials along the Alabama coast started working to get out information to civic groups, schools, local governments and other organizations. Guerry says one new effort this year was a countywide hurricane expo held in Orange Beach. “Our idea was to come together and work with our different municipalities to offer a large scale event that would connect our community residents with the resources that they would need in order to be prepared for various disasters, but of course this time of year we always focus on the tropical season weather, so it was very well participated.”

Officials try to get across a few basic lessons in disaster preparation.

"Number one is going to be make a plan for your family, says Guerry. "That’s going to be including your communication plan for your family, including your evacuation plan for your family. And the second thing is make a kit, so you’re going to have an evacuation kit that’s going to last you at least 72 hours.

Credit APR's Guy Busby
Gulf Shores, Alabama

"You look back to Opal in 1995, very similar to Michael,” says Jason Beamon. He’s a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile. “The only difference was that Michael intensified up to landfall where Opal intensified out in the middle of the Gulf and then weakened slightly by the time it got to the Gulf Coast.”

“Prior to today, we were having an issue with moving individuals from storm surge areas,” says Zachary Hood. He’s Baldwin County Emergency Management director. He said that since Ivan, officials have realized that inland flooding kills more people than wind or storm surge. “Now there is much more awareness on storm surge and we have been effective. Emergency management practitioners much more effective at getting that information out about the hazards and dangers of storm surge. We laugh about the slogan, “Turn around don’t drown.” But it is exactly what it means, if you see a flood, don’t risk going through the flood.”

Officials hope that 2019 will be a quiet season in Alabama for the people visiting the beach and everyone in the state, but when the next storm does come, they want everyone to be ready.

News from Alabama Public Radio is a public service in association with the University of Alabama. We depend on your help to keep our programming on the air and online. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.