All Hands On Deck: NOAA’s Disaster Preparedness Program Is Ready for Hurricane Season

Posted Fri, 07/23/2021 - 16:21

As we all know, the official Atlantic Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. During this time, the Disaster Preparedness Program located within NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, is busy coordinating with other offices within the National Ocean Service, as well as collaborating with federal, state, and local emergency management partners, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, many of you may still be wondering, “What exactly does the Disaster Preparedness Program do and how is it successful?”

Incident Management and Coordination

For starters, the program leads the NOS Incident Management Team. The team is comprised of representatives from across each NOS office. This ensures that both NOS and its partners can carry out their core mission responsibilities under any conditions. Focused primarily on the preparedness and resilience of personnel, missions, and infrastructure (PMI), the team helps to support and ensure the continuity of operations before, during, and after a major disaster or significant event. 

“The NOS Incident Management Team is crucial to both NOS and NOAA… the key trigger for activation is if two or more NOS program offices are involved or impacted by the event. The NOS IMT has really evolved since its inception in early 2015—especially in the last year where the team worked around the clock coordinating several pandemic activities, and most importantly, ensuring that NOS continues to be ready and vigilant for the next threat.” - Alyson Finn, DPP staffer 

The Disaster Preparedness Program supports NOS by maintaining situational awareness and through reporting any impacts or needs to NOS leaderships. Information like this is essential to ensuring that both NOS and NOAA leadership understand the totality of the event and have a common understanding of emerging priorities and needs. 

A conference room.
The DPP’s Disaster Response Center (DRC) in Mobile, AL serves as a training and emergency coordination facility. (Image: NOAA).

Promoting Regional Collaboration

When most of us think of NOAA and hurricanes, we think of the Hurricane Hunters and the National Weather Service forecasts, but both NOAA and NOS also provide assistance before, during, and after hurricanes. The Disaster Preparedness Program strives to improve regional collaboration to help provide federal, state, and local agencies with assistance, as needed. In addition, program staff often work to help explain and promote different NOAA/NOS products and tools that could assist local, state, and federal agencies during an emergency response. For example: 

  • Following Hurricane Laura, the National Geodetic Survey collected 23,401 aerial images that covered 2,720 square miles. These images can be used by state and federal emergency managers to prioritize clean-up efforts. 

  • The Office of Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Teams deployed for five hurricanes. After Hurricane Sally, the Navigation Response Teams worked with the U.S. Coast Guard to identify more than 1,000 displaced or sunken vessels following Hurricane Sally alone. 

The program works around the clock to promote consistent communication and coordination both within and outside of NOS. 

Building on Lessons Learned

Looking back, 2020 wasn’t just the year of COVID-19. It also included 30 named storms—the most in 170 years of record keeping. Thirteen of which were storms that became hurricanes and 12 of those made landfall, half as major hurricanes.

Once a disaster has passed, the Incident Management Team focuses on lessons learned and improvements necessary to more effectively address and reduce impacts from future events. An after-action report is developed describing successes, lessons learned, and recommended areas for improvement. 

The Disaster Preparedness Program helps NOS and its staff prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters such as hurricanes. With a focus on personnel, mission, and infrastructure, the program collaborates internally and externally at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure resilient coastal communities and environments.