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Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm, is expected to make landfall on the East Coast in the coming days. More than 1.5 million people have been ordered to evacuate coastal areas as of Tuesday, and the National Weather Service is warning there could be a life-threatening storm surge, prolonged flooding, and damaging winds.

UT has experts available to speak about the path of the storm and its major threats, dissemination of information during a disaster like Hurricane Florence, and the threat of flooding in cities affected by the storm.

Kelsey Ellis, a geography professor who specializes in meteorology and climatology, can talk about extreme and hazardous weather.

What are the biggest concerns for residents and communities along the coast as the Hurricane Florence approaches?

Florence will be a large, powerful hurricane and her effects will be seen over a large area. It does not matter if she is a Category 2 or a Category 5, she will have major effects at the coastline and also cause inland issues. For coastal communities, the major concern is always storm surge, which is the most fatal hazard from hurricanes. They will also have to worry about heavy precipitation and its resulting flooding. Strong structures will fail from rain even if they withstand the hurricane’s winds.

How will this storm affect inland regions?

Florence is expected to slow tremendously after landfall and will sit for several days causing torrential rainfall. There will be dangerous inland flooding across a large area. As seen with Hurricane Harvey, it can quickly become too late to evacuate. People should pay close attention to their local precipitation forecast and listen to the advice of local leaders and hurricane experts.

Jon Hathaway, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, is a nationally renowned expert on urban hydrology, green infrastructure, and helping cities develop better ways of managing stormwater.

What makes cities vulnerable to storms like Hurricane Florence?

One of the biggest challenges modern cities face in a major storm is a lack of space for water to dissipate. Flooding can be site-specific, but in general, the most common issue is that we have paved over so much green space, which has two negative outcomes: one, it generates more and faster runoff, because the pavement doesn’t absorb water and actually speeds it up; and two, the green space we lose such as forests and wetlands have immense ability to store water.

Eunae Yoo, a professor of supply chain management in the Haslam College of Business, studies humanitarian and disaster relief operations management and the distribution of information on social media and other online platforms.

What is the best way for officials to disseminate information to the public as the storm approaches?

One of the best ways to do this quickly and broadly is through social media platforms. These platforms are particularly powerful due to their sharing functions, like retweeting and sharing on Facebook. Local and state governments have been communicating effectively during the preparation for Hurricane Florence. They are posting detailed content on social media for affected residents as well as sharing related news and updates very consistently. Consequently, they are acting as information hubs for affected residents.

How do the challenges and strategies for sharing information shift during and after the storm hits?

The first 72 hours of disaster response are considered to be the most critical and chaotic. There are a lot of changes happening due to population movement, infrastructure damage, and the arrival of many relief organizations. As a result, information is constantly changing and is considered to be highly perishable. For example, the number of damaged homes right now will be different in one hour. For emergency organizations, they have to figure out how to collect, process, and share information at an even faster rate to avoid working with expired data.

Another challenge in a postdisaster environment is damaged or weak communications infrastructure. Electricity might go out, cell towers could be damaged, land lines could get clogged with calls, etc. Luckily, responders prioritize restoring these services, but there is a major challenge for spreading information once a disaster arrives.

How can people in the path of the storm prepare themselves and stay informed?

Make sure to start following not only national emergency management and news organizations on social media but local ones as well. Often, local organizations are sharing more specific information about evacuations, shelters, and donations. Additionally, look for the blue check mark on Twitter and Instagam accounts to ensure you’re getting information from verified sources.

It’s also important to share information during emergencies. When you retweet the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, you not only pass the information to your friends, but you are also bringing their attention to the source. This will help your friends obtain information from TEMA quickly, and it helps TEMA get direct access to a larger social media audience and spread information more quickly.”

CONTACT:

Megan Boehnke (865-974-4232, mboehnke@utk.edu)

Karen Dunlap (865-974-8674, kdunlap6@utk.edu)