The full impact of Typhoon Morakot, which struck Taiwan, China and the Philippines earlier this week, may not be known for days or weeks, but hundreds are missing and dozens are already confirmed dead. Morakot was only a Category 2 storm, far less powerful than storms like Katrina or Andrew that we in the United States associate with incredible damage. But this should be a reminder that though our own hurricane season has been quiet so far and may be less active than average due to El Niño, which developed in the tropical Pacific Ocean in June, those of you who live on the East Coast should still be prepared. The hurricane season's peak is approaching; it lasts from mid-August through mid-October.
The difference in severity of a natural disaster does not always lie in the severity of the natural event. Geography matters; Morakot's death toll will surely rise due to a massive mudslide caused by the torrential rains. However, the ability of the individual and the community to prepare for an event and deal with the aftereffects are perhaps even more important.
Katrina was an example of both the geography and preparedness problems. New Orleans' low elevation contributed to the devastation, but inadequate levies and poverty exacerbated the situation to such a degree that the city still hasn't fully recovered, nearly five years later. But while we can't do much about where we live other than to leave (which you should do if told to evacuate), we can at least prepare ourselves for a potential event.
What you should do to prepare depends much on where you live, so instead I will suggest you go to the FEMA and NOAA preparedness web sites and start there. Simply having a plan will already put you steps ahead of some of your neighbors.
NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.