Hurricane Lessons

After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas and Louisiana, I was struck by how many of those interviewed were grateful – a young mother who lost everything – an elderly couple displaced – a homeless man staying at a shelter. The common theme was thankfulness. Safety for oneself and one’s loved ones far surpassed any mourning for the loss of possessions. I observed a peace that came over those who felt like they did all they could to prepare. The rest was “out of their hands.”

My eyes teared up watching how many everyday people risked their own lives to help out – fellow Texans putting themselves in harm’s way to rescue one another and each other’s pets – first responders showing courage to assist people from all walks of life – boaters that left Florida to help neighbors across the Gulf escape from peril. The collaboration and community spirit was beautiful to see. We don’t hear as much about how kind people are to each other until a crisis. I started writing a blog about all of this and in the middle of it found myself living the experience firsthand.

I live in Tampa Bay. Hurricane Irma took us by surprise. The twists and turns of her path were gut wrenching. First it was the biggest hurricane ever. Then it was going to hit Miami and the East Coast as a Category 5. When it turned west, we all hunkered down. Tampa Bay hadn’t received a direct hit since 1921. It was very likely that we would. Even Anderson Cooper and Al Rocker agreed along with a list of top notch meteorologists.

Our state and local officials stepped up their preparedness plans and worked day and night to help us get ready. “What is your evacuation zone?” “Do you have the supplies you need?” “Are you in a safe place?” were among the many messages conveyed across all forms of media. You really had to be defiant to ignore them. Getting prepared and feeling that you are doing all you can to be ready is a big take-away from this experience. So is rehearsal. Our state has been running simulations of this type of crisis for a long time. Preparation includes practice.

Having a strong leader with a team of competent people to support you makes all the difference in a potential catastrophe. The mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn, is a great communicator and leader. His resilience under pressure inspired our community. Friends, family, neighbors and total strangers came together to support one another. He didn’t avoid the facts in addressing us. “We may get hit hard, but we are prepared.” He conveyed an attitude of: “I will be with you through all of this, no matter what.” When complimented on his leadership, Bob gave credit to all those involved. He modeled what it means to be a servant leader.

Unlike Houston, our community didn’t get the damage anticipated. Like our neighbors across the Gulf, we came together for a higher purpose, to help each other survive and stay strong. We can learn a lot about life from these hurricane lessons – have a clear mission, be prepared and act as a community serving each other.