Storm surge maps help save lives

Hurricane Sandy was the second-costliest hurricane is US history, and led to one of the largest-scale evacuations experienced in the country. There was 233 fatalities in total due to direct and indirect causes, and experts say that the use of storm surge maps helped prevent the death toll from being much higher.

“During Sandy, we rescued 250 people from their flooded homes, evacuated two major hospitals and several adult care homes”, said Edward Schneyer, director of Emergency Preparedness, Suffolk County (N.Y.) Office of Emergency Management. Schneyer and his agency were able to achieve this effectively owing to the use of storm surge maps created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Historically, around half of the fatalities due to a hurricane are caused by the storm surge. These maps indicate the likely extent and depth of flooding, and provide emergency managers in vulnerable areas with an understanding of storm surge potential, highlighting areas where people should evacuate if at risk.

“This very valuable resource is an excellent tool for public education, emergency management planning, and emergency preparedness in general,” Schneyer said.

An example storm surge map for the shoreline in Connecticut, USA given below shows the storm surge extent expected from a worst-case scenario combining hurricane landfall location, forward speed and direction for each hurricane category.

(Credit: USACE)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it appeared that people who should have evacuated were isolated and left exposed to various dangers such as electrocution from downed power lines and fires from gas leaks. Ongoing work involves incorporating information from storm surge maps through an interactive program available online, so the public can see whether their home is in a storm surge zone and which designated shelter is nearby.

This article was originally published in GPS World and can be accessed here.