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3 ways that lawmakers can prepare for an El Niño winter storm season

December 14, 2023

By Steve Powell, Executive Vice President, Property Americas, Sedgwick

Extreme winter weather conditions are all too familiar for communities across the U.S. — emphasizing the need for federal lawmakers to take preventative measures.

The National Weather Service predicts unusual forecasts this winter season due to El Niño, a natural climate phenomenon characterized by high sea temperatures that affect weather patterns across the United States. El Niño typically brings wetter-than-average conditions in the southern half of the country, potentially leading to major storms.

Federal lawmakers can plan accordingly by promoting preparedness and resilience and encourage individuals to follow in their footsteps. This blog highlights three steps to ensure the country is ready.

Long-term planning

The frequency of catastrophic weather events is increasing, and now is the time to get ahead. Planning takes place before a disaster strikes. Responding effectively to a disaster requires preemptive messaging and comprehensive training, including safety drills and emergency procedures. A robust plan ensures that resources are in place and people are ready to respond quickly and effectively. While disaster management is still possible once a catastrophe hits, it’s more costly and challenging to initiate the process at a later stage, when resources are limited, and tensions are high.

It’s critical to have a plan of action for best-to-worst-case scenarios. Stress testing the worst-case scenario allows government officials to identify infrastructure weaknesses before a crisis begins. Partnering with private companies that specialize in disaster prevention and catastrophe response can provide governments with peace of mind that they’ll have access to the resources and expertise needed to protect what matters most: the communities in which they serve. 

Planning also involves individual participation, which can be promoted through preparatory messaging. Informing the public about common hazards — like frozen pipes or fires caused by portable heaters — and encouraging communities to proactively identify and reduce these risks is essential.

Mitigation measures

Mitigation efforts aim to minimize the impact of a disaster or emergency once it strikes, reducing the severity of its effects. For instance, a flood-prone area might experience less damage to infrastructure and fewer casualties after retention basins and floodwalls are added, compared to a scenario without such proactive measures in place.

A variety of methods can strengthen buildings and homes to make them better fortified against extreme weather. Lawmakers can recommend that property owners implement storm-resistant roofs and enforced windows and doors, allowing buildings to withstand heavy snowfall, storm surge and high-speed winds. Sturdy construction materials like metal and concrete can be used in roofing and building structures.

Public infrastructure can also be fortified to mitigate the effects of strong weather. Storm sewers need to be able to absorb considerable amounts of rainfall and snowmelt. Roads and bridges likewise must be built to withstand the challenges posed by snowfall and ice accumulation. Safe and reliable transportation is crucial for response teams to reach destinations quickly and facilitate evacuation if needed. In crises, efficient transportation ensures timely and secure movement of people away from affected areas, enhancing overall emergency response effectiveness.

Response and recovery efforts

A proper response and recovery phase involves immediate actions taken during and after a disaster to address its effects and save lives, as well as the long-term steps that restore a community to normalcy.

Winter weather can reduce information availability by disabling power lines and telecommunication networks. Organizations well versed in disaster relief efforts across the globe can move quickly to mobilize resources and restore the critical infrastructure that supports communication systems.

Storms can also jeopardize residential houses and commercial property. During claim damage assessments, federal responders need to know how to effectively communicate with insurance companies and other professionals to streamline the recovery process and avoid siloed information. Information about shelter needs – often community centers, schools, gymnasiums, or arenas converted into emergency shelters – must be shared widely with people displaced by storms. This is only possible, of course, once communication networks are restored. 

With unpredictable weather on the horizon, it’s time for lawmakers to take steps to prepare. El Niño may well bring heavy rainfall, snowfall, high-speed wind and a myriad of other perilous conditions. When efforts are made to plan, mitigate and recover, risks can be minimized.