Yesterday, Donald Trump declared an emergency in Florida (especially attuned to the situation perhaps because his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, has been in the path of the projected storm). The US president authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency “to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures…to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in all 67 Florida counties.”
The preparatory declaration is good news for Floridians, based on a Brookings Institute report on lessons learned from hurricanes past. In 2017, after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Amy Liu and Andre Perry of the institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program noted that “speed of action, scale of aid, and interagency coordination can set a strong foundation for helping people and communities restore their lives and activities.” Acting fast to authorize and organize interagency activity is critical because authorities need to have cash and resources to meet the immediate needs of people who may be displaced from their homes and find themselves without work as well.
In the long term, and even if the US is lucky enough to be spared the worst of Dorian, experts say that the most important lesson of extreme weather in recent years is resilience. Authorities, communities, and individuals have to learn to plan for disasters in advance and have a path forward worked out before the troubles begin. We may never know exactly what the weather will do or when, but we can be sure that some emergencies will be inevitable, so being ready for the worst will yield the best results when misfortune strikes.