Climate change appears to be increasing the severity of hurricanes – and perhaps their frequency.
Southern forest, farm, and ranch landowners need to prepare and plan for hurricane impacts. The USDA Southeast Climate Hub surveyed hurricane preparedness and recovery resources and identified a need for centralized guidance that is complete and consistent.
The Hub teamed up with university extension and other USDA partners to develop a centralized resource for landowners. Led by director Steven McNulty and coordinator Michael Gavazzi, the authors produced a series of 23 Hurricane Preparation and Recovery guides focused on the most economically important commodities for coastal states in the southeastern U.S. including timber, livestock, row crops, aquaculture, and more.
The guides include considerations for building a resilient operation, long-term operation maintenance, short-term preparedness actions, and post-hurricane recovery. All of the guides include a wealth of online resources for state- or commodity-specific information from federal, state, university, and other organizations.
Disaster planning means taking stock of assets, understanding risks, and if it comes to it, counting up the losses. The guides encourage landowners to think beyond short-term resilience and consider climate variability. Current predictions show a future where warmer temperatures and higher precipitation may lead to more frequent or powerful hurricanes. The guides offer considerations for minimizing losses in the longer term – for forest landowners, this might mean shifting tree species from loblolly pine to more wind-resistant longleaf pine.
“The worst time to find out that you do not have enough insurance, or the right insurance, to cover your damages is when you need help recovering,” the authors caution. They provide helpful resources on timber insurance. Standing timber insurance can offset losses, and reforestation insurance can help with non-merchantable stands lost to wind or fire.
The guides recommend an annual review of emergency planning tasks – personal health and safety plans, up-to-date insurance and other documentation safely stored, and physical work needs. Good recordkeeping – of harvest activities, equipment, and supplies – before a hurricane is very important. The authors suggest conducting regular inventories every four to five years to track changes.
When a hurricane is an immediate threat, the guides recommend keeping up with local communication and preparedness bulletins, making sure that records are safe and accessible, and using digital media to document assets – like taking photos of stand or crop conditions prior to the hurricane. They also recommend physical tasks that one might forget in the throes of the emergency, such as moving equipment and making sure gates are locked.
“While planning and preparation are key to building resilience and reducing risk, guidance in the post-hurricane recovery section has vital information to help landowners get grounded and recover after the hurricane. Reminders of the little things, like personal safety, taking notes, and available assistance programs, have the most power for helping landowners get back on their feet,” explains Gavazzi.
When a storm strikes, the guides emphasize assessing damage before attempting clean up or repairs, and enlisting professionals to help when possible. Often it will be some time before disaster assistance is available, and assistance will depend on the damage that’s been documented.
Taking the time right after the storm to assess and document the damage and begin the insurance claims process can speed up the process. Keeping records of contacts, recovery and repair work completed, and expenses incurred can be invaluable when assistance does come around.
The preparedness guides provide a one-stop shop for landowners or managers who want more information on particular topics. These resources include links to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s soil survey, Tree Planting Guides, Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) flood maps, University Extension websites, and various state agency sites. The Southeast Climate Hub intends to periodically update the guides to keep them current.
For more information, email Michael Gavazzi at firstname.lastname@example.org.