Preparing for hurricane season across Latin America

U.S. government officials work year-round to prepare Latin America and the Caribbean for hurricanes, which can kill or injure thousands of people and inflict billions of dollars in damage.

The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. Here are five ways the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners improve disaster resilience in the region.

Warning communities

Hurricanes bring lashing winds, but flash floods are the number one weather-related killer. Fast-moving waters can exceed 9 meters in height, yet 15 centimeters is enough to topple a person and 45 centimeters can carry away a moving car.

Aid workers talking with man while group of people watch (USAID/Irene Gago)
USAID disaster consultants meet with people displaced by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti in 2016. (USAID/Irene Gago)

USAID trains experts in hurricane-prone countries on the Flash Flood Guidance System, a scientific method for collecting and analyzing rainfall and absorption data to warn of flash floods, which occur when the ground cannot quickly absorb excess water.

This system can provide up to six hours of advanced notice of flash floods, allowing time to take emergency action, move people from harm’s way and save lives.

Storm surges from coastal waters also pose a threat. USAID is assisting Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Curacao in building automated weather stations that deploy 3D-printers and low-cost sensors to improve forecasting.

Stockpiling for emergencies

USAID helps its Caribbean partners stockpile essential supplies, including emergency shelter materials, blankets, water treatment systems and kitchen sets. Additional relief supplies stored in Miami can be quickly delivered to hard-hit areas during hurricanes.

Warehouse full of humanitarian aid marked with USAID logo (USAID)
Relief supplies stored in USAID’s warehouse outside of Miami can be airlifted around the Caribbean after hurricanes. (USAID)

Coordinating disaster experts

The U.S. government also has offices in Costa Rica and Haiti where disaster response experts are ready to respond. USAID coordinates a network of more than 30 disaster risk management specialists throughout the region who are ready to respond to hurricanes.

USAID also has more than 400 disaster consultants available for short-term responses, and places experts on the ground in advance of hurricanes to assess needs. Consultants live in Latin American and the Caribbean, are familiar with local officials and can quickly help the agency prioritize humanitarian needs to respond to conditions on the ground.

Preparing for donations

USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information educates the public on the most effective ways to help others during a hurricane. Monetary donations through established organizations operating in affected countries are the fastest, most effective way to assist.

While clothing, canned food and bottled water collected for survivors can be costly to transport, monetary donations enable relief workers to respond to evolving needs, from immediate lifesaving assistance to helping rebuild communities.

Marines stacking boxes of aid marked with USAID logo (U.S. Marine Corps/Sergeant Melissa Martens)
U.S. Marines prepare supplies for distribution at Douglas-Charles Airport in Dominica September 29, 2017, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sergeant Melissa Martens)

Empowering future responders

USAID also trains at-risk youth in neighborhoods across Latin America and the Caribbean to become disaster preparedness leaders.

The Youth Emergency Action Committees program, led by USAID partner Caritas Antilles, has taught young people to prepare for and respond to hurricanes, administer first aid, plan evacuation routes and set up emergency shelters.

With their leadership and talents, these teens prepare their communities for disasters and improve resilience. Started in Kingston, Jamaica, the successful program has expanded to the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and Grenada.

A version of this story appeared in Medium.