Here in Florida, we celebrate all of the four traditional seasons as the rest of the country. Spring, summer, fall, and winter come and go every three months, often without any of the temperature fluctuations and recognizable signs experienced throughout the rest of the United States. Existing in a constant state of hot and hotter, Florida also begrudgingly recognizes another season unique in its duration of six months. Beginning on June 1st and lasting until November 30th is a period in Florida known as hurricane season. Floridians anxiously look to the sky, their televisions, their computers, and now their smart phones to see what the forecasts are concerning the season.
Florida accounts for 39 percent of all hurricane strikes that take place in the United States, equaling a total number of 114 hurricanes since 1851. Since our last “major” hurricane, Wilma, took place in October 2005, Florida has (through pure luck and a little bit of help from steering currents and the sands of the Sahara Desert) remained blissfully hurricane-free. With more storms hitting our coast than any other states, Florida’s almost nine year hurricane-free streak is the longest period on record since 1878.
Forecasts among respected organizations such as AccuWeather place the expected number of hurricanes for the 2014 season at somewhere between three and five. However, just because a below-average season is expected, doesn’t mean that even just one of these potential hurricanes can’t cause considerable damage. For example, hurricane Sandy devastated the coast of New Jersey but was only classified as a Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall in 2012 because its maximum winds only reached 80 mph. This proves the naivety of judging the potential danger of a hurricane or tropical storm based solely on wind speed.
Experts are concerned about the potential complacency this lack of hurricanes has placed on Florida home owners, and the longer it continues the more worried they get. Generators should be fueled up, disaster kits replenished, and evacuation plans updated every year, whether or not the chances of a natural disaster appear slim. Now there are also technologies that didn’t once exist when Wilma and Andrew wreaked havoc across Florida years ago. Organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operate apps that can help you prepare and endure a natural disaster, as well as find out information about first-aid, the locations of recovery stations, and much more.
Some of the most comprehensive and proficient disaster preparedness technology comes from Google. Included in their toolkit are Public Alerts, Crisis Response, Crisis Map, and Person Finder, all available by computer, Android, or iOS device. In a typical year in Florida, there are anywhere between 80 and 100 days with thunder and lightning, 66 tornadoes, and 2 to 3 hurricanes. The goal behind these technologies is to make disaster-related information immediately available.
Currently available in the United States, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Indonesia, Japan, and Taiwan.
Accessible either through Google Search or Google Now.
Google Public Alerts are notifications that warn you ahead of time about the occurrence of natural disasters and the areas that are expected to fall within the storm’s path.
They provide information on how to stay safe during a disaster, where you can go for shelter, and when it’s safe to head back home.
Alerts originate from authoritative sources like the U.S. National Weather Service or the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Learn more at http://www.google.org/crisisresponse/publicalerts/.
The Google Crisis Response team creates a web page with the most relevant emergency information and tools for a specific crisis.
They include emergency contact information, news updates, donation opportunities, and other relevant tools.
Assess the appropriateness for, and launch, tools like Google Crisis Map or Google Person Finder.
Learn more at https://www.google.org/crisisresponse/.
Following a crisis, people often get separated, and responders play a role in helping people locate one another.
Person Finder is an application that connects friends and loved ones following a disaster.
The Google Crisis Response team launches this feature following a crisis where there are large numbers of missing people and traditional communication lines are down.
Person Finder helps by providing an open platform for individuals and organizations to let people know who they’re looking for and to enter updates about missing persons.
Learn more at http://www.google.org/personfinder/global/home.html.
Crisis Map is an online map that displays geographic information, such as storm paths, shelter locations, and power outages.
Information is taken from official and user-generated content.
The Crisis Map is a mashup tool built on the familiar Google Maps API.
It aims to put critical disaster-related geographic data in context, and in a map-based viewing frame.
Learn more at http://www.google.org/crisismap.
Staying Ahead of the Storm
Smart phone users can download the Google Search app and sign in using an existing Gmail account.
To find out how you can download Google Now, choose your device and follow the instructions at http://www.google.com/landing/now/#howtogetit.
Public Alerts can be found in Android notification panels using Google Now or through Google Search when you look for a specific geographical area or a relevant weather term.
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