Preparing for the unexpected

People who prepare for hurricanes tend to have fewer damages and they recover faster and more completely.

September 27, 2023 12:43 am

Hurricane Dorian in 2019. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

By MaryAnn E. Tierney

As an emergency manager, I spend my day preparing the mid-Atlantic for the unexpected – and in my work, the unexpected can be deadly. A summer shower can quickly turn to dangerous flash flooding. A dropped cigarette can ignite a wildfire. A hurricane can make landfall on the Gulf Coast and bring tornados and rainfall to devastate communities in our region, as Ida did just two years ago. 

Right now, the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30, is in full swing, with storms forming every week. Fortunately, the impact of last weekend’s storm, Ophelia, did not cause major damage in Virginia. However, the National Weather Service warns that the Atlantic will see ‘above normal’ activity levels.

Despite storm surge and heavy rain, Virginia weathers Ophelia without major damage

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continues to help disaster survivors even as we invest funding to build resilient communities to decrease the impact of disasters. Nevertheless, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and other disasters continue to occur. To keep yourself and your family safe and to recover quicker, it is critical for you to prepare and understand your area’s risks.   

In Virginia, hurricanes are not just a coastal threat. Hurricane Isabel, which hit Virginia nearly 20 years ago, caused widespread damage. However, hurricanes that made landfall in other states have caused devastation here as well. In the late 1960s, Hurricane Camille made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane along the Gulf Coast, but remnants of that storm were just as catastrophic 800 miles inland in Virginia. Extreme rainfall from the remnants of Camille caused flash flooding that claimed the lives of nearly 125 people along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

A home in Nelson County overturned during Hurricane Camille in 1969. (Flickr/FEMA Region 3)

Storms like Camille show us that you don’t have to live where a hurricane makes landfall to be impacted. They can still bring heavy rainfall, flooding and high winds long after they are no longer considered a hurricane or a tropical storm.

I share those devastating numbers and facts to urge you to get ready now. Throughout September, we highlight preparedness. There are several easy things you can do this month – like stocking up on supplies next time you go to the store, following your local officials and news stations on social media, and encouraging your friends, family, and neighbors – to prepare. That will make a big difference when the next storm comes.

Here are some actions you can and should take now: 

Identify, follow and listen to your local emergency managers. These hard-working individuals in your community are dedicated to keeping you safe on sunny days and stormy ones. They are the eyes and ears in your town, so find out who they are and follow them on social media. And while you may feel safer in your home during severe weather, I encourage you to follow their directions if you’re asked to evacuate or seek shelter. When you bypass those instructions from emergency managers, you not only put yourself in danger, but first responders as well. 

Make a plan. Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during and after a disaster. Write down a list of emergency contacts on paper or in your phone and keep it handy.

Build a kit. Gather supplies that will last for several days after a disaster for everyone living in your home, including pets. Build a kit that fits the needs of your family today and update it regularly. 

Strengthen your home. You can improve your home’s ability to withstand hurricane conditions by cutting weak branches and trees that could fall on your house, clearing your yard, and covering windows during severe weather. 

Talk to your kids about preparedness. Involve them in your planning process and talk to them what to do in case you are separated. 

Know your risk and purchase flood insurance. Extreme flooding and damaging winds can occur hundreds of miles inland from the coast, and most homeowner insurance policies do not cover flood damage. Learn about the importance of flood insurance and what it covers at

FEMA’s Ready campaign has many other tips to help you prepare for emergencies. Visit for low-cost and no-cost steps you can take to lessen the impact of disasters and emergencies for you and your family. 

I have seen firsthand the different outcomes between people who prepare for disasters and those who don’t. People who prepare tend to have fewer damages and they recover faster and more completely. Taking steps today to ensure you’re ready for anything puts you and your family ahead of the curve – and that’s a great place to be.       

MaryAnn E. Tierney was appointed Regional Administrator for FEMA Region 3 in August 2010 and also served concurrently as Acting Regional Administrator in FEMA Region 2 for ten months following the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy on New York and New Jersey. As Regional Administrator, Mrs. Tierney is responsible for leading FEMA’s efforts in the mid-Atlantic to help people before, during and after disasters.

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