Hurricane Andrew’s fury was witnessed by South Dade residents and concerned citizens all over the region. But nobody has a more authoritative and credible voice on all matters Andrew and for that matter Atlantic basin Hurricanes in general than Bryan Norcross. As the most prominent television meteorologist in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV market for two decades, Norcross became the hero of Hurricane Andrew to so many local residents. Beginning before Andrew and up till today when he serves as the Senior Hurricane Specialist at the Weather Channel, Norcross has developed a greater expertise in the history and tendencies of Atlantic Hurricanes than just about anyone alive today. As a television meteorologist he’s also developed a unique understanding of the role television, communications and social media can play in the process of preparation and evacuation for storms. With Hurricane Irma churning out in the Atlantic and Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath still filling up the newspapers and our social media feeds, there is no better time read Norcross’ book My Hurricane Andrew Story: The story behind the preparation, the terror, the resilience, and the renowned TV coverage of the Great Hurricane of 1992.
LISTEN: Tracking Hurricanes with Bryan Norcross
Some of the key areas covered in this book which detail the lessons of Andrew and other storms Norcross’ has covered include:
Communications and the National Hurricane Center (NHC)
A strong case is put forward by Norcross that the NHC needs a more robust communications strategy that begins when the public starts craving information. Without their input, the void is filled by a cacophony of voices, many with unknown training. Only the NHC is positioned to be the leader.
Broadcasters need to lead the way in many cases
Television is the only medium that lends itself to the detailed explanations necessary to fully describe the threat and how individuals and businesses should respond.
Norcross argued that journalists and broadcasters should never make definitive statements about uncertain things, whether it is the storm’s track or the post-storm status of anything that they haven’t seen or know about with certainty. Doing so can have unintended consequences of delaying or diverting recovery resources. As Norcross discussed in our interview with him, a misconception of what had taken place during Andrew filled the airwaves for hours until the harsh reality was known. In today’s world of social media and 24 hour news channels perhaps this is less likely to happen but still could very well occur.
What role will Facebook, Google and Twitter play in an emergency? None have fully met its responsibilities as an emergency conduit to this point in time.
Evacuation messages need signage
People need to know and understand their risk, and a phone app is not enough. Neighborhood entry points and street signs should be labeled with the area’s evacuation code. Smart signs as we saw activated during Matthew on major highways and expressways aren’t enough.
Presidents need a disaster plan
A hastily arranged presidential visit or flyover is a waste of time. Presidents should get the federal machinery moving, and visit after they have done their job.
Build them right and they will stand
Too few structures along hurricane vulnerable areas are constructed to the building standards that Andrew taught us are required to avoid the trauma people went through after the 1992 storm. Norcross strongly supports the South Florida building code – the toughest in the nation. But he also strongly warns in our interview with him and in this book that outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties the building code still isn’t strong enough for the rest of the state.
Send in the troops
The only entity in our society that can bring command and control to a catastrophe zone is the US military.
Every hour their deployment is delayed adds an hour of pain and torment for people caught in the destruction zone. As Norcross describes during Andrew the troops eventually came in, established and maintained order. However their late deployment was costly.
The worst does happen
Andrew’s primary lesson is that the worst does happen and you must prepare. Storms explode into ultra-hurricanes near the coast. Forecasts still go wrong, and even a good forecast incorporating the best modern science cannot predict with certainty where exactly the core of a hurricane will hit. This is especially important to remember during this week as all eyes are on Irma.
I can’t recommend this book strongly enough to our readers. If you have any memories of Andrew, any interest in Florida, any concern about the future and dealing with monster storms, this is a must read. Norcross tells a story but more importantly gives us numerous lessons including the ones above. His thinking is transformative and remains critical all these years after Andrew.