People need to plan now for possible evacuations, power outages and other challenges as a new hurricane season approaches, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday.
"Have a plan," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said after a White House briefing with President Barack Obama and top administration officials on hurricane season, which begins Friday.
"What I hate to have people do is go through hurricane season worrying all year about hurricanes," Fugate told reporters. "What I want them to do is find out about their risk, take the appropriate steps to get ready, and then if a hurricane threatens, know what to do."
Lessons learned from past hurricanes and other natural disasters, such as last year's Joplin tornado, brought new approaches to helping people deal with catastrophic storms, he said.
For example, cell phones are most effective for text messaging, rather than calls, and the Internet also offers a fast way to communicate with a lot of people, according to Fugate.
The problem is that electric power often goes out, so planning for the storm season should include access to generators, battery-powered devices and other backup sources, he said.
"If you just did one thing this hurricane season, make sure you got a good family communication plan and what your backups are going to be so when you get on that cell phone and you get that busy signal you're not stuck, you know what the next step is," said Fugate, who cited a government website, www.ready.gov, for information on disaster planning.
In particular, he advised adding a battery-operated cell phone charger to the household emergency kit.
People also have to understand the circumstances for their particular areas in the event of a disaster, Fugate emphasized.
"For some folks, that means they'll have to evacuate away from the most dangerous areas," he said. "For other people, they need to be prepared for the impacts of the hurricane. One of the big ones, besides flooding, is power outages."
The key, he said, is to be prepared, have a plan and "know what to do if the storm threatens."
In terms of the federal response, Fugate said experience showed that restoring a community's ability to function was vital to long-term recovery efforts.
"If you don't get debris picked up quickly; if you're not able to restore public infrastructure, particularly get schools opened, it's very difficult for communities to come back," he said, adding that the private sector played a key role through jobs and services.
The forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season this year is near normal, with nine to 15 named storms including four to eight hurricanes and one to three major hurricanes. Two named tropical storms already have formed in the Atlantic before the June 1 start of the season that runs through November.
There's also been action in the Pacific -- Two named storms have formed in the Eastern Pacific before the start of the 2012 season. Eastern Pacific hurricanes rarely impact the mainland United States.
Gerry Bell, lead hurricane season forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center, told reporters last week that uncertainty about whether the El Nino weather pattern will form made it difficult to be more precise.
Fugate noted that forecasts can't pinpoint where and when a hurricane will hit.
He referred to Hurricane Irene last year in saying "if you live along the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic, and as far inland as the folks in Vermont found out last year, you need to be prepared."