I have been anxious.  As we watch Tropical Storm Lee approach the Lesser Antilles, my anxiety has been increasing despite strong and unified forecasts projecting its passage to our north. It’s an anxiety shared by the rest of the community for a simple reason – Lee’s path reminds us of Irma.  It’s been six years, but for most of us it might as well have happened yesterday. Irma, then Maria, changing the course of our lives forever.  In late August and early September of 2019, I felt the anxiety of disaster empathy for the first time. Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Abacos and Grand Bahama Island, and the USVI collectively held our breath as we remembered our own trauma and knew exactly what was in store for the communities impacted by Dorian. In the years since then, this particular form of worry and care and fear has cropped up at least annually, sometimes monthly. Most recently, Lahaina’s heartbreak echoes back to our own, familiar as we are with small island communities both beset and supported by tourism, communities facing devastating disaster impacts in many ways exacerbated by the very things we’re told keep us alive.  Whether it is hurricanes, or fire, or flooding, or earthquakes, or some other hazard that imparts disaster, the commonly resounding theme is this: communities save themselves.  As disaster impacts increase in scope and frequency (2023 had seen 15 “billion dollar” disasters even before the Lahaina Fire and Hurricane Idalia, and we’re still four days from the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane season), federal resources are stretched thin. It is often assumed that FEMA’s arrival post-disaster is supposed to herald “Recovery”, but the truth is, FEMA is not there to make us whole. Preparedness, response, and recovery are all grassroots initiatives, at their core. No one knows unmet needs like community and faith-based organizations. No one knows the nuances of response like local first responders and emergency services. A federal response is never going to roll into town and succeed unless they are plugging in to local knowledge, customs, and experience.  I’m not dropping any groundbreaking information here. The National Preparedness Goal endorses a whole community approach, FEMA has placed increased emphasis on community partnerships and lifelines over the past several years, and any community that has been impacted by a disaster will tell you categorically that community engagement and community readiness are at the heart of resilience. The question now is, how do we engage communities BEFORE the disaster? Over the next decade, more and more communities are going to experience disasters that are historically unprecedented. There are lessons out there to be learned, best practices to be adopted, and relationships to be built. How do we best cache this knowledge so that small communities are learning from one another, proactively, and how do we build a system that allows federal mitigation dollars to truly build capacity and support local resources? When I think about where we were on this day six years ago, and I think about where we are now, the antidote to my anxiety is this: I know readiness is a growth-game in my community. I feel confident in our collective preparedness and in our ability to support ourselves and each other. My neighbors, my colleagues, our partners… that’s who I find solace in. The past, present, and future of preparedness and resilience is community. Let’s build the systems that lift up communities in blue skies, so that when gray skies come, we’re ready.  To learn more about what we do at Love City Strong, or to donate in support of our work, please visit www.lovecitystrongvi.org.

2023 Forecast

In April, Colorado State University released their first long range forecast for the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season. According to the research team, this season could be slightly below average due to El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean. Their projections are for 13 named storms, including 6 hurricanes, 2 of which they expect to be major (Category 3 or higher) storms. These numbers are slightly below the 1991 to 2020 average per year. You may be saying, below average? Great news! However, as we all know, it only takes one storm to create significant damage in our community. Even a below average season can produce above average damage for an island or region. In order to plan proactively and be prepared in the event of a disaster, we must each take a moment to step back and assess our risk, whether at home, at school, at work, or within our communities.

What is Risk Assessment?

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction defines disaster risk assessment as “a qualitative or quantitative approach to determine the nature and extent of disaster risk by analyzing potential hazards and evaluating existing conditions of exposure and vulnerability that together could harm people, property, services, livelihoods, and the environment on which they depend”. What does that mean for you? Risk assessment on a personal level is the process of taking in all the information you have about a given threat, like a potential hurricane, along with all that you know about your home and your life, and deciding how likely it is that this hazard (the hurricane) will inflict harm. In the context of the 2023 hurricane season forecast, our first inclination might be to feel relief at the prospect of a “slow season”. However, upon examination maybe we remember that we haven’t had the trees on the property trimmed in a while, or that we never did find that one shutter for our bedroom window. Perhaps we recall that our neighbor down the street is still living in a home with a damaged roof, or that a member of our church needs to keep their insulin cold. Understanding the risk for wind damage or for extended power outages can help us to prepare for these needs.

Understanding Hazards and Forecasts

We can often become complacent about “small” hurricanes, or “just” tropical storms, but the reality is that these systems are capable of just as much damage. Just last fall, Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 1 storm, but dropped more than 30 inches of rain in two days, triggering catastrophic flooding across the island. We’ve all experienced tropical systems moving through the territory that seem so much more intense than expected, with gusting winds and intense periods of rain. The reality is that these weather patterns are mercurial, subject to change and constant variability. A storm that is headed our way may, to our relief, skirt to our south, and a storm we expected to pass by at a safe distance may make a strong turn and make landfall in the territory. The best course of action is to always be prepared. Internally at Love City Strong, we generally prepare as if a storm will be two categories stronger than forecast. The same approach should be taken for rain forecasts – if we’re expected to get 2 to 4 inches, imagine what the impact would be of 6 to 8 inches, and prepare for that. Over prepared is always best. As we count down until the start of hurricane season on June 1st, it’s important to be proactive and plan ahead. Fire up your generator, check your emergency kit, restock any necessary items. Most importantly, talk about your emergency plans with your family, your neighbors, and your colleagues. The more we normalize conversations about preparedness, the more easily we can support each other in times of crisis.
Sustainable long term recovery requires dedicated participation across all sectors of the impacted community. Importantly, it must include equitable access to safe and storm-strong housing for all. As St. John and the U.S. Virgin Islands continue to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, safe and affordable housing continue to be a leading concern. At Love City Strong, our slate of housing recovery programs is designed to support those residents particularly who have struggled most to recover, while also alleviating pressure on the housing market by increasing available inventory. A core element of our Disaster Housing Recovery and Mitigation program is a focus on partnerships with local business and contractors in order to complete minor and full rebuilds. This approach ensures not only that recovery dollars stay within the territory, but also that skills and resources are cultivated and maintained, supporting a more prepared island as a whole. The Disaster Housing Recovery and Mitigation Program includes several distinct projects: Our Resilient Housing Initiative (RHI), the RHI Mitigation project (RHI-MIT), and a $7.8M FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Residential Wind Retrofit project (WRP).  Since 2018 we have rebuilt 36 homes through RHI, completed accessibility and safety related repairs on 6 more homes through RHI-MIT, and the Residential Wind Retrofit project will serve an additional 97 homes in the community. Despite these significant efforts, there are still many more families in need of support, and in 2023 we will be continuing our housing recovery efforts through these programs, as well as exploring new projects and solutions.
Throughout the month of November, you have the opportunity to contribute to the Love City Strong Disaster Housing Recovery and Mitigation program, while entering for a chance to win an ‘Emerald Ticket’ to St. John. This package includes accommodation, transportation, and gift certificates for dining, shopping, and activities. Visit https://go.rallyup.com/emeraldticketstjohn for more details about this package, or to purchase tickets.
For more information on our housing programs, or to sponsor a rebuild, contact mae@lovecitystrongvi.org
Local contractors work on a home in the Residential Wind Retrofit program.
Hurricane Fiona is pulling away from the Territory and leaving destruction in her wake across Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos. Here in the USVI, we can reflect on how fortunate we were in this instance. After all, we face many of the same challenges as our neighbors in Puerto Rico. Our Territory is also still in recovery five years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Our infrastructure reconstruction and hardening are far from complete. When the ground is saturated, as it often is by this point in the hurricane season, heavy rains can cause flooding in our watersheds. This in turn can wash out roads and retaining walls. Residents still living under partially or completely tarped roofs are at increased risk during even a passing rainstorm, let alone a tropical storm or hurricane. Our situation is always precarious when it comes to tropical weather, and we do ourselves a disservice to underestimate the impacts. It can feel easy to dismiss a storm like Fiona as “just” a tropical storm, or “just” rain. However, clearly the impacts of torrential rain can be just as devastating as high winds, if not more so. It is important that we learn how to talk about these hazards in ways that accurately communicate risk. We must use the tools that are available and think critically about incoming weather. That way, we can make informed decisions about our own safety and wellbeing. As Fiona passed south of the USVI this weekend, the storm slowed significantly. When a system’s forward motion slows from 15 mph to 8 mph, that results in an adjustment to the impact window. Sometimes it can shift by days. When creating emergency plans, whether for household or business, it’s critical to keep up to date on the latest information, and to interpret what that information will mean for you and for the plan you have in place. Perhaps you think that a storm will “finish” at a certain time, and make plans for how to resume your daily routines. When that time arrives, a glance outside shows clearly that the storm is not over. A comprehensive emergency plan should include fall backs and alternatives for situations like this. It’s also important to know what informational tools you have at your disposal. There are countless apps that will keep you updated on developments in the tropics, websites that will offer the latest tracking, and TV and YouTube Channels that will provided detailed analysis. Building a good network of information will help ensure that you are prepared and well informed no matter what the impact. The truth is, preparedness is always a work in progress. When you are dealing with complex systems like tropical weather, layered on top of equally complex systems like Caribbean islands in the midst of recovery, there are always elements of the unknown. However, by doing our best to take in good data, build good habits, and think critically, we can all grow more prepared over time. Here are some of my trusted resources for forecasts and analysis: Hurricane Tracker App (available in the App Store and Google Play) NHC.NOAA.GOV : for regular updates, straight from the source (the National Hurricane Center) Track the Tropics : for detailed models and analysis Tropical Tidbits : particularly useful for forecast models Mr. Weatherman : a relatively new, no-hype forecast channel on YouTube that gives comprehensive coverage to Caribbean islands Additional apps for hourly weather forecasts: Dark Sky Clime: NOAA Weather Radar Weather Underground Windy.com
One of the most important parts of preparedness is creating back up copies of your critical documents. For many years this meant physical copies. However, in the aftermath of a storm, even those individuals who have prepared copies of their documents can face challenges in managing all of their paperwork and retaining it for practical use. Paper records can be damaged by the elements, leaving them illegible or completely destroyed. Those who need to evacuate or relocate multiple times during the course of a disaster may lose or inadvertently damage documents. Today the most efficient means of backing up your documents is to make digital copies, and to store them on an external drive.  Storing scanned versions of your critical documents on an external drive can make filing insurance claims easier after a disaster. It can expedite processing with FEMA, and also help move along the replacement of lost or damaged items.  Love City Strong believes that document preparation and storage is a vital and oft-overlooked aspect of personal preparedness. This summer, we are holding a series of pop-ups to assist residents in scanning their documents onto a portable USB drive. Priority will be given to seniors, families, and residents with a disability or nonemergency medical need. Individuals are then encouraged to place these USB drives in their disaster preparedness kit alongside their other personal preparedness items. For those whom do not have a personal computer at home or have lost their computer due to a disaster, portable devices such as a USB can be brought to community resources (such as nonprofits) whose employees and agents can then in turn print out copies for individuals to then bring to a federal agency employee at a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC).  A suggested list of documents to bring in and have scanned includes, but is not limited to:
  • Birth certificates 
  • Driver’s licenses
  • Social security cards
  • Proof of home and land ownership documents
  • Proof of rental
  • Tax records
  • Financial records
  • Energy and Internet bills or statements which have meter/account numbers on them
  • Insurance documents
  • Medical information
  • Vehicle documents
  • Dependent documents
  • Pictures of the interior and exterior of your home
The next “Ready in a Flash” Drive will be held in Franklin Powell Park, Cruz Bay, on Friday, August 19th from 10 AM to 2 pm. If you have questions about this program, please call the office, (340)714-7744, or email info@lovecitystrongvi.org. Donate here to support annual community preparedness programs like this one.
This week as part of Pet Preparedness Month, we spoke with the Humane Society of St. Thomas about their hurricane preparedness plans, particular seasonal needs, and tips for pet owners trying to keep their pets safe and comfortable during a storm. Read on for their great advice and to learn how you can help!
  1. What does the shelter do to prepare for hurricanes? 
The Humane Society of St. Thomas staff are equipped with curfew passes to ensure that all the animals still receive the care they need. Outdoor tents come down pre-storm, windows are boarded up, and the team ensures there is ample food and water supply for the animals. The team also moves animals to safe spaces inside the shelter to ensure no one is left out in the elements.
  1. How can residents help make sure that more animals don’t end up in shelters following a storm? How can people keep their pets safe during a storm? 
Having pets microchipped and tagged is a huge help. If they do end up at the shelter, reunification is that much easier with microchips and tags, especially since the staff can simply call the owner to notify them. Canines Cats & Critters personalizes tags, as does VIP Pet Supply.  The Shelter Operations Chair outlined the top 10 items you should include in your pet preparedness kit:
  1. Food: At least a three-day supply in an airtight, waterproof container. 
  2. Water: At least three days of water specifically for your pets. 
  3. Medicines and medical records: Most boarding kennels, veterinarians and animal shelters will need your pet’s medical records to make sure all vaccinations are current in case of emergency.   
  4. Important documents: Registration information, adoption papers and vaccination documents. Talk to your veterinarian about microchipping and enrolling your pet in a recovery database. 
  5. First aid kit: Cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape and scissors; antibiotic ointment; flea and tick prevention; latex gloves, isopropyl alcohol and saline solution. Including a pet first aid reference book is a good idea too. 
  6. Collar or harness with ID tag, rabies tag and a leash. 
  7. Crate or pet carrier: Have a sturdy, safe crate or carrier in case you need to evacuate. The carrier should be large enough for your pet to stand, turn around and lie down.  
  8. Sanitation: Pet litter and litter box if appropriate, newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags and household chlorine bleach. 
  9. A picture of you and your pet together: If you become separated, a picture of you and your pet together will help you document ownership and allow others to assist you. Add species, breed, age, sex, color and distinguishing characteristics. 
  10. Familiar items such as treats, toys and bedding can help reduce stress for your pet. 
  1. Does the shelter need more fosters for the animals if a storm is coming? 
Yes they do! Especially if they have animals that need more attention, such as bottle fed or medical case fosters. The shelter always needs foster parents, especially as hurricane season coincides with kitten season, and they are currently severely overcapacity. The larger dogs are the hardest to place. Anyone interested in fostering can email the front desk, hsttdesk@gmail.com, or fill out the foster form online (https://forms.gle/4yytiJBmAuD2Jxb18) to help. Humane Society of St. Thomas will also most likely post a plea for fosters on social media prior to any incoming storm.  Two of the larger dogs who are available for foster or adoption are Moxie and Abu:
Moxie: 2 year old female Retriever / Basset Hound mix. 48 pounds. Moxie is HW-, and such a lover! Moxie loves to love and will kiss you at any chance she can get!
Abu - The sweetest big boy! 55 pounds, about 4-5 years old. HW+, dog friendly, very calm, good on leash, would love another dog friend around!
Moxie is a 2 year old female Retriever / Basset Hound mix. She is 48 pounds, HW-, and such a lover! Moxie loves to love and will kiss you at any chance she can get! Abu – The sweetest big boy! 55 pounds, about 4-5 years old. HW+, Abu is dog friendly, very calm, good on leash, and would love another dog friend around!  
  1. Does the shelter have any specific needs to be prepared for this hurricane season? 
Right now overpopulation is a huge issue. Just this month, Humane Society of St. Thomas has had 31 cats and 23 dogs come in. That number will likely only continue to go up. HSSTT is not a no kill and is severely over capacity. Transports by the Pets with Wings program and our partner rescues are wonderful but only provide temporary relief. The shelter has a new program thanks to many generous donors, especially Kym and Glenn Verette, which is providing free spay and neuter vouchers. These vouchers are valid for 30 days (you must book the appointment within the 30 days) and provide free spay and neuter services, redeemable at any vet clinic on St Thomas. Additional Resources : SNIP: https://www.classy.org/campaign/%22snip%22-clinic/c409138 Have-a-Heart: https://www.classy.org/give/243539/#!/donation/checkout To support Humane Society of St. Thomas, donate at: https://www.classy.org/give/212529/#!/donation/checkout To support Love City Strong’s preparedness efforts, you can donate through our website, www.lovecitystrongvi.org.
When a major hurricane impacts the Territory, many support services are interrupted or stretched beyond their capacity. In the context of Pet Preparedness Month, we wanted to reach out to the animal shelters on St John and St Thomas to learn more about how they prepare, and how the community can help.
  1. What does the shelter do to prepare for hurricanes? 
Ryan Moore, Shelter Manager at the Animal Care Center of St John, says that their primary concern is making sure they have everything they need in terms of supplies. After a storm, with supply chains disrupted, it can be difficult to source food and other necessities for the shelter animals. “When the storms hit in 2017 I don’t think anyone realized how crazy it was going to be, so we were just left with what we had in-house to get by… Making sure we have what we need for those first few weeks is important” If a storm is incoming, the shelter also makes sure to prepare the building as much as possible. Waterproofing and weatherproofing the facility, storing tools and equipment, and bringing as many of the animals inside as possible are all part of the preparations. Ryan is optimistic about this season given that “in house numbers are very low mainly just kittens and cats at the moment”, which means that finding space inside or finding fosters for animals will be more manageable. 
  1. How can residents help make sure that more animals don’t end up in shelters following a storm? How can people keep their pets safe during a storm? 
According to Ryan, “owners can do a number of things to prevent animals ending up in shelters”.  
  • Make sure your dog or cat has some sort of ID. Microchips are best. If owners get their pets chipped and they end up in a shelter, they can scan the pet to figure out where they belong.  The ACC now provides this service for residents if they want it done.
  • Write a number on your pet’s collar with a sharpie as an extra precaution.  
  • Many dogs on island live outside, so these identifiers are really important, as well as making sure these animals have a safe place to ride out the weather – which is not leaving them in the yard on a tie out to fend for themselves. 
  • It’s important for families who travel during the summer to make sure you have a plan in place for pets if with a pet sitter.  In case they get stuck stateside and the animals are being watched here.  We saw numerous situations like that during Irma.  We ended up having to step in to help these owners get their pets back.
See the bottom of this post for a thorough checklist that the Animal Care Center of St. John recommends pet owners follow when preparing pets for disasters.
  1. Does the shelter need more fosters for the animals if a storm is coming? 
According to Ryan, “Finding fosters has always been hard on island, just given the dynamic of the island, housing issues etc.  But YES, fosters would always be great as long as it’s a safe situation”. If you’re in a position to foster an animal, please reach out to the ACC. 
  1. Does the shelter have any specific needs to be prepared for this hurricane season? 
Ryan says, “when it comes to needs for hurricane season, we can always use donations throughout the summer. Food, cleaning supplies, and medications are important, and having crates is always a plus.  The rigid plastic crates that we use to transport animals on flights are hard to come by on STT/STJ and if we can find them locally they are expensive. The more we have on hand, the more animals we can get out quickly if a storm comes”.  The organization is replacing a portion of the roof on the cat porch, and hopefully those repairs will be completed in the next week or so. If you would like to donate to support the Animal Care Center of St John, they accept donations through PayPal:  https://www.stjohnanimalcarecenter.com/donate/ To support Love City Strong’s preparedness efforts, you can donate through our website. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post when we hear from The Humane Society of St. Thomas about their pet preparedness routines!
The Animal Care Center of St. John recommends that pet owners use this checklist when preparing their pets for disasters.
Housing is one of the most complex parts of recovery after a disaster. After the hurricanes in 2017, HUD estimated that 74% of low and middle income homes on St. John were damaged. Since 2018, Love City Strong has partnered with several other nonprofits, along with St. John-based construction companies and dozens of qualified local professionals to help create the Resilient Housing Initiative (RHI). RHI has rebuilt 36 homes to date. Notably, we have been the sole source of reasonably priced recovery solutions for these homes. Throughout 2020 and 2021, it became clear that recovery challenges were increasing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Global supply logistics, coupled with widespread economic downturns and access to affordable labor hindered a return to safe, accessible homes. In October of 2021, we received a grant through the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, with funding provided by the Island Spirit Fund. Cruzan®Rum, along with Global Giving, established The Island Spirit Fund to support disaster relief. It issues grants to local organizations with boots on the ground and lasting relationships in affected areas. Specifically, this grant was awarded to help with repairs on the hurricane damaged homes of two St. John residents.  This funding came at a critical point. Due to the changing needs of our clients, we worked to expand the impact of the RHI program. In effect, by including smaller scopes of work, we allow for progress across more of the community. Furthermore, St. John is in the midst of a severe affordable housing crisis. As a result, each home repaired and made more accessible relieves pressure on the housing market.  In 2022, we will continue RHI, and take a mitigation based approach. In other words, we will make relatively smaller investments to limit more serious future damages. Qualifying permanent residents include:
  • Seniors
  • Low and middle income families
  • Single parent families
  • Pregnant women
  • Residents with a disability or chronic health conditions. 
Your support is critical to continue this important work. To donate to our ongoing housing recovery efforts, please visit  https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/resilience-and-accessibility-for-st-john-homes/ For more information about how to sponsor an entire repair project, contact: mae@lovecitystrongvi.org
In 2017, a group of volunteers came together that would become Love City Strong. I doubt any of us could imagine that day what the next four years would bring. Certainly pandemics were not on our horizon at that time! Since then, LCS has worked with the public and private sector on projects relating to disaster response, recovery, and resilience. Resilience is a cross-sector exercise, including preparedness, sustainability, and health and wellness. Our projects are designed to increase the Territory’s capacity across all of these sectors. In 2020 and 2021, LCS, like the rest of the world, had to adapt to new realities. Our COVID-19 related projects included:
  • Outreach and education about COVID-19
  • Food security
  • COVID-19 vaccine outreach
  • Logistical support
Notably, these public health projects often overlapped with the familiar rhythms of hurricane season. The past two years have reinforced the importance of an “all hazards” approach to disaster risk management, preparedness, and response. The disasters that affect us are becoming markedly more complex and layered. Therefore, we must be creative in our approach to addressing community needs, both before and after disaster impacts. In 2022 our commitment to preparedness will remain a top priority. However, we will also look toward a resilient future by focusing on mitigation efforts in the community. These efforts aim to reduce harm or damage, particularly from potential future impacts. Throughout the pandemic we have strengthened our ties with nonprofits across the USVI. Equally important, we have built upon strong foundations with our partners in the States. Training and planning exercises in the USVI have become more accessible, consequently increasing engagement among partners. These and other developments allow us to stretch our skills even further in service of the community. We look forward to a year full of fruitful partnership opportunities and ongoing community recovery.
St. John Getaway Raffle for Giving Tuesday, to benefit Love City Strong

As many of you know, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving is known as Giving Tuesday – a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.

This year, as part of our Giving Tuesday fundraising efforts, Love City Strong has put together a “St. John Getaway” raffle, which launched on November 1st. The prize package includes accommodations (a week’s stay for 2 at the new Wharfside Village Hotel), discounted rental from Slim Man’s Jeep Rental, lots of activities options, plus over $1000 of gift certificates for dining and shopping.

We’re excited to be able to offer a chance to win this fun and comprehensive vacation package while raising money to support our ongoing disaster preparedness, disaster response, recovery, and mitigation efforts here on St. John and across the USVI. To learn more about the work that we do, please visit our website

The complete prize list includes:

Accomodations: A week stay at Wharfside Village Hotel – King Size room (2 Guests)

Transportation:      Discounted rental from Slim Man’s Jeep Rental

Dining: Morgan’s Mango – $200.00 Gift Certificate 18’64’ The Restaurant – $250.00 Gift Certificate North Shore Deli – $100.00 Gift Certificate St. John Scoops – $50.00 Gift Certificate Kati Ligo – A specialty cheese board and 2 glasses of wine, valued at $60 Trunk Bay Concessions – $100.00 Gift Certificate

Activities: Cabana Day at Lovango Resort & Beach Club Sunset Sail with Big Blue Excursions Half Day Snorkel Sail for 2 aboard Kekoa 2 hr LimeOut Taco Shuttle with Salt Deck

Shopping: Lulee St. John- $100.00 Gift Certificate VirginAbis- $100.00 Gift Certificate The Tap Room “Brewtique”- $75.00 Gift Certificate

The prize drawing will take place on December 1st (the day after Giving Tuesday). Enter today for your chance to win a trip to St. John!