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An Anatomy of Hurricane Hysteria: A Portrait of Dorian Revisited!

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

To heed or not to heed? That is the quintessential question when it comes to hurricane warnings—or more precisely, what alarms are being sounded. As a native of Jamaica, if pressed to remember, I might have learned to spell hurricane, you know D-O-O-M, before learning to spell my own name.

Put another way, like so many childhood fantasies, the threat of hurricanes was a constant companion.I suppose you could say they were an undeniable part of the DNA of island life.

But that was 1970s Jamaica, that dot of an island sans the advances of let’s say, 21st Century almighty America with technology at its beckon.

So, why now that I live in Miami Beach, hurricane reporting stirs such sweet nostalgia (insert sarcasm)? I feel like I am stuck in 1978 Jamaica—still being held captive by hallow voices echoing hymns of apocalypse and doom every single time there is a ‘disturbance’ at sea?

The mere mention of ‘disturbance’ and we have a populace in panic. I suppose it has to do more with dollars than the good sense to stop crying wolf. After all, isn’t this America where advances in technology are mitigants?

South Florida, for example, heeded lessons from 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, the monster of a storm that decimated entire communities. What officials found when that hurricane’s proverbial dust had settled, were a lack of enforcement of then outdated building codes. The remedy? Building code requirements and enforcement changed with alacrity.

One of the most important additions to the code was the requirement of missile-impact resisting glass, which can withstand high velocity impact from wind-borne debris during a hurricane.

Another immediate change was the elimination of construction of “stick” frame houses. Most post-Andrew houses are cinder block masonry construction reinforced with concrete pillars, hurricane-strapped roof tresses, and exacting requirements for adhesives and types of roofing.

Florida's buildings are not in the same peril they almost 30 years ago. "You'll see that buildings stand up better against hurricane-force winds," Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told ABC News.

And, according to Timothy Reinhold, a Tampa-based wind engineering and natural hazard consultant, “basically, whoever is using the international codes and series without adopting a bunch of weakening provisions is in pretty good shape.”

I’d say we are in pretty good shape when compared to let’s say, 1970s Jamaica. Or even Los Angeles and other cities prone to earthquakes without warning. While it is not to say we should sit back, relax and do absolutely nothing in the face of an approaching hurricane, it is however, to say, enough with the media hype, fearmongering and political grandstanding.

Yes, the media and their not-so-distant-cousin-in-politics, seem not to have heeded lessons from the lad who cried wolf: hype eventually leads to complacency, and perhaps even unintended casualties.

Hey, maybe, just maybe, in the absence of super hype and excessive cries of wolf we might just take the real warnings with the seriousness we should.

Let’s not be CNN, who, for example, during its coverage of ‘Dorian,’ reported “hard rain” in North Bay Village, a town located literally in the line of sight from our balcony. Needless to say, we were beyond baffled by the “hard rain” report as we enjoying our morning coffee, albeit under somewhat gloomy skies.

But “hard rain?” I know this is Florida where it can rain on one side of the street and not the other, but to report “hard rain” when we could literally see there were maybe a drizzle or two, is at best hype, and at worst may be tantamount to negligence.

"I refuse to blow a fuse / They even had it on the news /… false media, we don’t need it, do we? / It’s fake, that’s what it be to ya, dig me.”

—Public Enemy, Don’t Believe the Hype

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