Will Matthew's Near Miss Mean Less Preparation For Future Storms?

Oct 7, 2016

Projections are still holding that Hurricane Matthew may circle back towards South Florida after a near miss this week.

And there’s some concern from officials that this first miss may have a lasting impact on future storm preparations, preparations, that have dotted South Beach with sand bands and odd pieces of plywood.

The entire front of Cheeseburger Baby on Washington Avenue in South Beach is covered in plywood. Beside a makeshift door also made of plywood, “Yo! We’re open” is written in pink spray paint.

X Ink Tattoo deployed sandbags and a barrier in the doorframe to prevent the shop from flooding.
Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN

“So just in case it came, we were prepared,” said Cedric Washington, a manager of the burger joint.

The preparations took about half a day, he said. “We had to go buy extra stuff… and then the prices went up on things because of the hurricane.”

But Washington and other business owners and managers echoed the same sentiment: They’d do the exact same thing again and will do it again for the next storm. By their calculations, it’s worth it even if—like in Matthew’s case—it misses us.

Part of that has to do with the fact that businesses around South Beach often see the impacts of the elements.

“You know, floods happen all the time,” said the manager of X Ink Tattoo who goes simply by X. “We’re prepared for this; this happened before.”

He steps over sandbags and a piece of plywood to get into his shop, supplies he keeps ready at hand for the sunny-day flooding during high tides or flooding during the smallest of storms.

“I’d do the same thing over and over and just prepare for the worst and hope for the best, you know; you never know,” said X.

After near misses with storms like Hurricane Matthew, you often hear about the possibility of “preparation fatigue.” You do all this work and if the storm doesn’t hit are you less likely to prepare for the next storm?

Kenny Broad is an environmental anthropologist at the University of Miami where he researches risk perception. He says there’s really no evidence one way or the other on whether this phenomenon actually exists.

Businesses on South Beach were taking down their plywood window covers Friday morning.
Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN

“I think the question of false alarms is a really interesting one, and from an academic standpoint we really don’t understand how people will act the next time,” said Broad.

It’s hard to construct an experiment that would be able to accurately capture data on this kind of question, he says.

But he speculates that when you have infrequent hazards like a hurricane it’s hard to build up the instincts to take action like putting up storm shutters or filling up your gas tank. And flooding on South Beach might be building up these instincts.

“If you are getting these small warnings all the time through nuisance flooding or wind events… then it seems reasonable that you would be more primed to act appropriately when you get a warning of an even bigger event,” said Broad.

It remains to be seen if people will take a second threat from Hurricane Matthew as seriously if it does make its way back around to South Florida.

Either way, Cedric Washington says the plywood will go back up if only to open for business as quickly as possible to serve what he calls “the best burgers on the beach.”