Q&A: Take time to think ahead for storm season

While plans won't stop hurricanes, Frank Hammer said thinking through key elements even after a storm has passed can help people cope with disasters.
While plans won't stop hurricanes, Frank Hammer said thinking through key elements even after a storm has passed can help people cope with disasters.
Courtesy of UF/IFAS

Preparing personally for storm season is important, but so is helping others prepare, especially as a steady flow of college students and new permanent residents arrive in Florida.  

Frank A. Hamner, a graduate of UF’s Levin College of Law, handles storm preparation and response for an office building and a family of companies with multiple locations. He recently sat down to talk about how to effectively prepare and lead others through storm season.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  

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Frank Hamner handles storm preparation and response for an office building and a family of companies with multiple locations.
Photo by J.C. Derrick Frank Hamner handles storm preparation and response for an office building and a family of companies with multiple locations.

Derrick: From a leadership perspective, what should companies ensure they are doing to prepare their employees for severe weather events? 

Hamner: It’s a multi-part process. Before storm season even starts, you need to remind your people it’s coming. You need to develop, in the prior year, an updated plan for how your company is going to handle the storm—basic stuff, like cleaning gutters, cleaning drains, making sure that if you get excess water, it’s got a place to go. Get your roof checked out.  

The other thing I think is very important is to make sure that you have a contact list for everybody that works for you. Then assign someone to contact blocks of people, to get in touch with them afterwards to make sure everyone’s accounted for and see if they have any issues.  

In protecting the business, to me it comes down to, first, we want to protect our personnel, second, our property, and then anything else after that.   

JD: You talked about working in advance—when does prep season start for you? 

FH: I started looking at updating stuff, or any new information that may have come out, at the first of the year. For example, this year the National Weather Service is going to change the prediction cone, because people still get confused by what the cone means. So they’re going to put the information out there seven days in advance with a little bit more explanation about what the cone means.  

JD: From an organizational communication standpoint, how important is it to have one designated person who is steering the ship versus a group of people? 

FH: I like to say that when everybody’s responsible, nobody’s responsible. You do need to have one person in charge and whose duty it is to collect all this information. Then you can delegate.  

JD: As a storm is brewing, how do you decide what to communicate and when? 

FH: It happens in phases. When a storm’s coming, you tell people, ‘Now’s the time to go through those emergency preparedness checklists. Get your hurricane kit ready. Don’t wait till there’s a storm coming in and the grocery stores are cleaned out.’ So that’s phase one.  

When the storm has made landfall, you’ve got to look beyond just your local area, because people have friends and family all over the state. So try to get information out that’s impactful to them that they could share with their families, and then more about information in the storm. Remind people that things can change in a heartbeat and to take things very seriously.  

JD: Do you worry about making people overly alarmed?  

FH: Of course.  

JD: How do you guard against that? 

FH: I try to stick to the facts and my information. I tell them the consequences, remind them that just because it’s a Category 1 or a Category 2 storm, it can really be impactful. We’ve seen thunderstorms and tropical storms come through that have caused severe damage with flooding and wind damage. They had nothing to do with hurricanes.  

So you remind them to take it seriously, but don’t build it up so much that the next time you’re putting out information, it’s like crying wolf. Don’t scare people, just inform them. 

Food, water and other items, such as first aid supplies and flashlights, are some of the things that UFIFAS experts suggest putting in a disaster supply kit.
Courtesy of UF/IFAS Food, water and other items, such as first aid supplies and flashlights, are some of the things that UF/IFAS experts suggest putting in a disaster supply kit.

JD: What would be a go to source for tracking weather events? 

FH: A good one is called Mike’s Weather Page. The address is spaghettimodels.com. That really puts together all the major information—National Weather Service information, NOAA information—all in one spot.  

As far as getting ready, a lot of the local news organizations have great checklists. In Orlando, WKMG has a really comprehensive hurricane checklist that I send out to people. It’s one of the best ones I’ve seen.  

JD: What are things to keep in mind after a storm has passed?  

FH: There are three phases of it: There’s getting ready, there’s when the storm’s here, and there’s after the storm has passed, and all of those carry their own dangers and requirements. Some people think, ‘Oh, the storm has passed,’ but you’ve got to think about, if you have damage to your house, how are you going to fix that damage. Downed power lines. Do you know how to use that chainsaw you bought right before the storm? Those kinds of things.  

If you don’t have power, that’s one thing, but do you have water? That really makes a big difference. You’ve got to be prepared for all that.  

So I would say look at those three phases and don’t dismiss the after-storm phase, because there can be a lot that has to be done there—logistically on a personal level, but also in getting your business back in operation. Can people come in to work? Are the roads open? Were there evacuation orders? How do we get people back? Who doesn’t have power? Who doesn’t have water and can’t get out of their driveway? Those are things, from a business standpoint, you’ve really got to think about.  

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