Hurricanes and the Atlantic Hurricane Season
Atlantic Hurricane Season extends from June1 - November 30. However, preparedness should (and does) continue throughout the year, especially in New Orleans. During peak hurricane season (late August and September), hurricanes can often be seen forming from "waves" off the western coast of Africa, driving across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Gulf of Mexico. Some, however, can form just off the coast or just south of the Gulf of Mexico, as seen more during early and late hurricane season. Weather patterns and atmospheric conditions truly dictate the track and the intensity of these storms. And they are extremely difficult to predict.
Basic Hurricane Damages
Once formed, these tropical systems spin in a counterclockwise fashion and produce a combination of thunderstorms, lightning, high winds, storm surge, and often tornado spinoffs. The most powerful part of the storm is on the eastern side of the tropical system, specifically the northeast quadrant, and will typically lead to the most significant damage. Coastal tides cause further complications related to the projected surge a local community may encounter. The storm's winds often cause damage to utility and power infrastructures, causing power outages that can be quite extensive depending on the storm itself and the community. Power outages cause significant planning problems, especially when one considers patients and citizens needing power for medical reasons. And what time of year does hurricane season occur? Summer. And it is usually hot and humid. Being without power can make for an uncomfortable experience for most people. Localized flooding can also occur due to the excessive rainfall during the progression of the storm.
The City of New Orleans
Following the 2005 hurricane season and Hurricane Katrina, the newly formed City of New Orleans Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness took on the herculean task of developing a city-wide evacuation plan in the event of an emergency. As Hurricane Gustav threatened the city in 2008, nearly the entire City of New Orleans was evacuated using this newly developed tri-modal evacuation and transportation triage plan. This plan is commonly referred to as the City Assisted Evacuation Plan (or CAEP for short). It fully utilizes public transportation (planes, trains, and buses) and 17 City-wide pickup points called EvacuSpots to assist those needing transportation. Working simultaneously, the City created an effective plan for individuals capable of self-evacuating. Together, these pieces (among a few others) allowed the City to accomplish the seemingly impossible and successfully evacuate 98% of the entire metropolitan area in what some experts claim to be the largest pre-storm evacuation in the history of the United States. Luckily, the storm did not make a significant impact in the New Orleans area, but the lessons learned from this and the 2005 season have continued to bolster this city-wide plan.
Building the University Tropical Weather and Hurricane Response Plan
As a storm approaches the Gulf of Mexico, the Loyola Office of Emergency Management and campus leaders will begin to focus on whether the storm’s trajectory and potential strength will impact the City and ultimately the University. The City’s plan relies on analysis of specific information and scientific research in order to become effective and operational. Loyola conducts the same analysis. In order to evacuate an entire campus, you must first answer the question: for what size storm should we leave? We call this our "evacuation trigger" or "threshold." There are significant differences between a Tropical Storm, a Category 2 or Category 4 Hurricane. Hurricanes are categorized by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which "grades" the storms wind speed as follows. Storm surge is no longer part of the formal Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Each storm brings unique, individual characteristics, thus leading experts to believe that wind speed is the only true, quantifiable piece that should be standard. Other aspects will be forecasted with each storm as they develop.
In 2007-2008, a City-wide Hazard Vulnerability Assessment identified the City’s "trigger" for evacuation to be a Category 3+ Hurricane if/when New Orleans was forecast to be inside the “cone of error” (this is the expected area of landfall and can cover quite a large distance when the storm initially enters the Gulf waters). The Category 3+ Hurricane status still serves as the City’s trigger and understanding this City-wide threshold allows Loyola to develop plans to react accordingly.
While the City of New Orleans will require its residents (including the Loyola community) to evacuate for a storm that is Category 3+, the Office of Emergency Management wants you to be aware that Loyola must and will remain flexible on our "evacuation trigger." Loyola will always err on the side of caution when possible to ensure campus and student safety, which could mean that the University calls for an evacuation when the city has not. For example, a Category 2 hurricane headed for New Orleans could force Loyola to evacuate, but the City officials might not order a mandatory evacuation, especially considering this is hypothetically within their threshold.
Using the established "trigger" (coupled with the location and forecasted storm trajectory), we can then develop a timeline from which to activate the moving pieces of our response plan at the University, whether it suggests we should evacuate or shelter-in-place. This allows us to create a common perspective of what needs to happen, how long it might take to accomplish the required course of action, and when we should act in order to ensure the safety of the entire Loyola community and the facilities we use to operate.
Loyola's Office of Emergency Management maintains a flexible Hurricane Annex to its Emergency Operations Plan. This plan provides the framework from which we can operate while still remaining flexible enough to make "game time" decisions depending on each individual storm.