Still plan for hurricanes

From the Pensacola News Journal

As Hurricane Dennis bore in on the Pensacola Bay Area on July 10, 2005, the area was still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Ivan, just 10 months earlier.

As frightening as the expected impact of the Category 3 Dennis was the chilling fear that this sort of hurricane activity might be the new norm.

Suddenly, that July, we all began to wonder just how much of this we were expected to take.

But people, and communities, are resilient. Today there is a new, more hopeful idea floating about. It is that if we can get through this hurricane season without a direct hit, the community can truly begin to recover.

Of course, people talking that way tend to not dwell on the other half of the equation – what happens if we do suffer another hurricane hit.

Still, it shows how quickly optimism returns from a bashing (and two major hurricanes in two years qualify as a bashing). We believe it shows this community is showing the toughness it takes to rebound, the classic sign of getting stronger, not weaker, from its trials.

At the same time, optimism is no substitute for preparation. Ivan’s hurt was magnified by our lack of experience; hurricanes Opal and Erin hit in 1995, neither packed the wallop of Ivan, and memories had faded by 2004.

People were still tired when Dennis came ashore, but they were much readier. They remembered Ivan, and had learned the lessons.

Today, we should be even more ready. Certainly the number of homes and businesses equipped with generators has skyrocketed. And new construction and major repairs since the last two hurricanes have met stronger building codes that weren’t even in effect when Opal and Erin hit.

And while it’s tough to call this a positive, the fact is Ivan and Dennis cleared away the weakest structures in the area, and pried off the flimsiest roofs. What has replaced them — where they have been replaced — is stronger and more resistant to hurricanes.

The state of Florida, meanwhile, has honed its institutional response to hurricanes. So have our local county and city governments.

The final link in all this is each one of us, the people who will be hunkered down if and when the next storm comes ashore. If we do our part, so much the better.

So while we applaud the emerging new optimism across the Pensacola Bay Area, we urge all to temper that with reality. We also believe that if this season passes without a hurricane, something essential will have been restored to our spirits.

At the same time, we intend to be prepared … just in case.