Leaving no stone unturned in hurricane preparedness

With hurricanes developing in the Atlantic Basin, Gavin Iley, Met Office Head of International Crisis Management & Resilience, provides a personal account of how the Met Office works tirelessly to ensure its hurricane advice is ‘useful, useable and used’.

Met Office Operations Centre

With a 24-hour operation, the Met Office Operations Centre can always provide the most up-to-date guidance.

Earlier this year I met a colleague from the meteorological service on one of the islands devastated by Hurricane Maria. They described how they walked to work on the day Maria hit, knowing that the storm was coming and its potential impact. They had left their family behind in the full knowledge that it could be the last time they saw them alive. They had chosen, however, to serve their community, going to work to continue to provide the critical meteorological advice, which could perhaps help save lives. Thankfully, the story for this family had a happy ending. Sadly, others were not so fortunate.

As Hurricane Maria and others tore through the Caribbean last year, my colleagues here at the Met Office worked tirelessly to ensure the UK Government had the most up to date and accurate meteorological information available. This included briefing into emergency meetings chaired by the UK Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, configuring experimental models to ensure we left no stone unturned in our meteorological analysis, and pulling in additional staff to support our operational teams. Looking back at the response now it was unrelenting and extremely stressful, especially when as a civil servant you’re expected to brief the most senior of UK Government officials. But reflecting on the story above, our stress was of course minor compared to the experiences of Caribbean islands’ residents.

This year the Met Office continues to play a crucial role in the UK Government’s efforts to ensure British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean are supported to be as well prepared for the hurricane season as possible. While we can hope for a quieter season, we’ve re-doubled our efforts, working alongside colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence (amongst others) to make sure we are ready to respond if and when required.

From a Met Office perspective we have looked at best practice from elsewhere to develop new briefing mechanisms, specifically designed to support the enhanced crisis monitoring and response systems in Government for the 2018 season. These briefings draw on the same world-class information, but are presented in a new easy-to-use format tailored for the needs of emergency planners and responders in Government. These briefings are complemented by the wider expertise available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year from the Met Office.

To quote a term often used by those providing information in the disaster management and response sector, making sure our information and advice is ‘useful, useable & used’ is critical. If we can achieve this for the 2018 hurricane season, then the Met Office, along with our meteorological colleagues in the region, can even better support those at the front end of disaster preparation and response efforts and therefore continue to save lives.

To watch a video on how the UK is preparing for the hurricane season in the Caribbean, please click here.




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