The 2017 hurricane season caused hundreds of fatalities, destruction of infrastructure, and additional hardships for the Caribbean, making it one of the worst on record for the region. It also taught valuable lessons about where to improve preparedness and response efforts in the future.
Presented by the World Meteorological Organization with its regional partners during the Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, “Lessons learnt on Early Warning Systems during the 2017 Caribbean Hurricane Season” recommends a move toward stronger people-centered early warning systems across territories including Puerto Rico, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Marten.
Among the key findings:
- Forecasts were generally accurate and timely, but the rapid intensity change created secondary hazards such as flooding, where warnings needed to improve using impact-based forecasting.
- Risk assessments and response plans were not sufficiently connected, meaning that some messages about risks like river flooding and storm surges, were not always understood.
- Communication infrastructure broke down; in countries most severely impacted by hurricanes, it took between three and five days to re-establish communication channels.
- Gender is a consideration in early warning systems – Asha Kambon, lead on the gender workstream aspect of the report, cited “machismo” procrastination as a stumbling block for men to take action against risk. Additionally, women were more likely to receive information through social media, while men relied more on radio broadcasts. As a result, the review recommended discussing gender when identifying the best communication channels and language prior to an emergency.