FEMA Director Fugate: Floridians Suffer From Hurricane 'Denial'

Aug 21, 2013

A map of Tropical Storm Sandy as it wound up the East Coast.
Credit National Weather Service

The Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency says Floridians today may suffer from more hurricane denial than in the past. Craig Fugate traveled to Tallahassee Wednesday in an effort to combat what he sees as widespread misunderstanding of storm data.

Fugate knows how Florida prepares for storms – he saw it first-hand during 11 disaster declarations as the state’s emergency management director.  But he says the way the public now consumes storm tracking data may actually threaten public safety.

“People are focusing too much on the category of the storm and they’re looking at a number and saying ‘well, it’s only a category 1’ or ‘it’s a post-tropical system’ and not understanding what they need to be focused on is the forecasted impacts,” he says.

Fugate says that philosophy was particularly prevalent when Tropical Storm Sandy hit the East Coast last year. Florida’s current Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon says he saw it just a couple months ago.

“You know earlier this year we had Tropical Storm Andrea impact the state," Koon says.  "And that storm made landfall in Dixie County, up in the northwest corner of the peninsula.  The next day, Miami-Dade County had 12 inches of rain. So that’s another emphasis on ‘don’t focus on that skinny black line, because the impacts will be felt widely across the state.’”

Fugate wants families to develop evacuation plans they can use if events warrant.  But he says the bigger danger is that many Floridians still have to be convinced to evacuate.