Yes, it’s hurricane season — but it’s also wildfire, tornado, flood and volcano season, too

Yes, it’s hurricane season — but it’s also wildfire, tornado, flood and volcano season, too

Hurricane season started last week and virtually no one noticed. And I think that’s a good thing. It’s also wildfire season, flood season, tornado season, and, obviously, lava season if you’re following the eruption in Hawaii.

Every year the media mavens send reporters to beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, hoping for an impending storm, or dire predictions from the National Hurricane Center, so they can load their chyrons with “breaking news” or “disastrous hurricane season expected.”

And then something else happened.

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President TrumpDonald John Trump20 weeks out from midterms, Dems and GOP brace for surprises Sessions responds to Nazi comparisons: 'They were keeping the Jews from leaving' Kim Jong Un to visit Beijing this week MORE tweeted about a pardon on that day; and, when it came time to visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get the annual hurricane season briefing, the media was focused instead on EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittPress: Drain the swamp – of Scott Pruitt Overnight Energy: Supreme Court to rehear Alaska moose hunter case | Greens to sue Trump's Chicago hotel | EPA stops having press aide review grants Supreme court to rehear Alaska moose hunter, hovercraft case MORE and the appearance of First Lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpTrump digs in amid uproar on zero tolerance policy White House pushes back on Laura Bush criticism of family separation Rosalynn Carter: Separating families at border is ‘a shame to our country' MORE.

 

Priorities. 

But let’s be honest about hurricane season. It is one of numerous natural weather “seasons” that occur every year. Why we hyper focus on hurricanes, as opposed to wildfires, mudslides, floods, tornados, droughts, has always fascinated me. I understand that a slow moving, ever-expanding hurricane, with its birds-eye view of the hurricane from space, or the ever-moving track and uncertainty of where it will land, give the media a multi-day story. And if the hurricane makes landfall and causes death and damage, you have a ready-made story for modern day media.

Do you know there is an Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, that coordinates federal efforts to fight wildfires? As I write this, and since the day hurricane season started, two large wildfires have been burning in the southwest, one of which has endangered one of my homes.

These wildfires have attracted minor national attention, but nothing compared to a hurricane. Every disaster, regardless of size or nature, is a horrible event for those involved. But far too often we focus on one and ignore another. 

Most Americans aren’t aware of the National Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. This center provides invaluable information on severe storms, including dry lines that can create monstrous storms that spawn incredibly destructive tornadoes.

I don’t know that the nation media has ever, at the beginning of spring tornado season (although tornadoes can occur at any time during the year) covered the Storm Center and its predictions. Tornadoes are powerful beasts of nature that can be as destructive as a hurricane. 

Some Americans might have heard about the earthquake center of the United States Geological Survey because after an earthquake the center reports on the magnitude of the quake. And while earthquakes are not predictable with the kind of certainty a tornado, hurricane, or flood is, nevertheless it is one more example of a phenomenon of Mother Nature the media tends to ignore. If the “big one” were to hit California, the New Madrid Fault, or elsewhere, they would swarm to the USGS likes bugs to a bug light to get information about the earthquake.

The point of this exercise is to shift our perspective and realize that FEMA is an all-hazards agency. FEMA doesn’t respond one way to a natural disaster and another way to a man-made disaster, such as 9/11. Certainly, there are idiosyncrasies between the different responses, but they each follow a simple formula: mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery.

But invariably the media asks, “is FEMA prepared for this hurricane season?” Yes. FEMA has taken specific steps to update plans, annexes and procedures for hurricanes on the continental U.S. and the territories. FEMA has updated high priority national contracts for numerous support services. FEMA continues to enhance its response capacity through training with the Urban Search & Rescue Teams (USAR), adding additional generator capacity, and evaluating their supply chains for maximum efficiency.

Most importantly, Brock Long, FEMA’s current administrator, recently spoke to the Florida Governor’s Conference on Hurricanes. The Orlando Sentinel reports: “If you’re waiting on FEMA to run your commodities, that’s not the solution. I can’t guarantee that we can be right on time to backfill everything you need.”

That needed to be said. In our system of federalism, FEMA is not a first responder. State and local governments need to work diligently to improve their response and recovery efforts. Not every disaster warrants a presidential disaster declaration. State and local governments need to improve their abilities to respond and have their states and localities prepared with pre-event management concepts that are exercised and ready to implement.

Yes, it’s hurricane season. But it is also wildfire season, tornado season, flood season and, unfortunately for residents of Hawaii, volcano eruption season.

Perhaps President Trump did the nation a service by drawing attention away from hurricane season and giving us an opportunity to recognize that FEMA is an all-hazards agency, ready to respond to disasters caused by nature or man.

It’s always [fill-in-the-blank] disaster season somewhere in the United States. 

Michael D. Brown served as the under secretary of Homeland Security and Director of FEMA under President George W. Bush. You can follow him on Twitter @michaelbrownusa.