Frances hits, but hurricane comms are set year-round

TAMPA, FL: When a hurricane threatens the US, organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and local and national emergency management teams must spring into action to communicate to their constituents.

TAMPA, FL: When a hurricane threatens the US, organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and local and national emergency management teams must spring into action to communicate to their constituents.

Florida has been ravaged by this year's hurricane season. Not three weeks after Hurricane Charley besieged the Sunshine State with billions of dollars of damage, it was hit with slow-moving Hurricane Frances, which, according to CNN, caused at least 10 deaths and as much as $15 billion in damage, and left at least 3 million people without electricity over Labor Day weekend. The storm had been downgraded to a tropical depression by Tuesday morning. The agencies involved - including their communicators - train year-round and are ready to strike when a hurricane like Frances hits. The hurricane season begins in early spring, and the NOAA kicks off the season by flying aircraft on the coast and into any potential storms for testing purposes. NOAA does media outreach around this event, and invites schoolchildren in to see the plane and learn about weather. NOAA's focal point for hurricanes is at the national hurricane center on the Miami University campus, where the agency has a year-round, full-time public affairs person. "When we know a storm like Frances [will] hit, we set up a local and a national broadcast pool," said David Miller, senior public affairs official for NOAA. "Our role is to be the subject-matter experts, so we have [professors] lined up ahead of time if we have a question on hurricane-forecast modeling." Before any disaster, Mike Stone, public information officer at the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), "works and creates strategic plans for [it]," said Cragin Mosteller, an agency spokeswoman. Before the storm hits, the state agency reaches out to the media to focus on evacuation messages. FDEM director Craig Fugate was quoted in a number of articles leading up to Frances. The agency also had Frances updates and tracking charts, as well as links to more information, on its website, floridadisaster.org. When the emergency-operations center decides it needs to go into action, an emergency support function is turned on, and the public-information center springs into action. "We operate an emergency operations line and communicate with the media," Mosteller added. NOAA sends additional public affairs officers down to the hurricane center to lend a hand, while maintaining its staff at national headquarters in Washington, DC. "The hurricane center is the focal point, but they would be inundated if we didn't [help]," Miller said. Along with media outreach, the agency tries to direct citizens to its website, www.noaa.gov. "Our internet traffic spikes dramatically during incidents like this," Miller said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the Department of Homeland Security, could not act on Frances until September 4, when President George W. Bush declared a federal disaster. However, Michael Brown, the under secretary of homeland security for emergency preparedness and response, and director of FEMA, had been made available for the media. The agency has also made mobile communications units available for telephone, radio, and video links in support of response and recovery efforts.

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