On 16 September 2018, the issuance of the Hurricane Signal No. 10 marked the arrival of Super Typhoon Mangkhut. It struck our city, causing large-scale damage that ranged from injuries (over 450 casualties), trees uprooting, disruption of transportation, flooding in low-lying areas, breakage of windows and curtain walls of buildings, and interruption of electricity or water supply in certain areas [1]. Given the huge extent of damage, it is worthwhile to review the prevention, preparedness, response and recovery (PPRR) measures while reflecting on the lessons learned to prepare better for future hazards.

Prevention and Preparedness Phase

Typhoon Mangkhut was predicted to be one of the most powerful tropical cyclones in record. Having been through the destruction brought by strong typhoon Hato in 2017, different districts have become more alert and carried out preventive measures to protect their community. For example, Sai Kung District Council had worked with the authorities concerned to strengthen the breakwater in the area to prevent flooding during cyclone-triggered storm surge [8]

Thanks to the early alert for Mangkhut of Hong Kong Observatory (HKO), Hongkongers geared up for the storm arrival even before the Standby Signal No. 1 was hoisted on 14 Sep (Fri) [2] [3] [4]. All parties in society did their part to prepare for the storm and minimize potential loss:

  1. Household members [5]
    • Stocked up food
    • Applied adhesive tapes on windows
    • Built brick walls to protect houses in low-lying areas from floods

  2. Business owners [5]
    • Transferred outdoor properties indoors and at higher level
    • Surrounded stores with sand bags

  3. Property management companies [5]
    • Installed water sensor and additional water pumps in underground car parks

  4. Community
    • Helped residents in low-lying areas such as Tai O to minimize loss by moving home appliances to higher places, arranged for safe settlement for stray cats, and urged for evacuation upon the approach of the typhoon [6]
    • There were also other organizations mobilizing volunteers to assist elders who live alone. For example, the volunteers helped repair vulnerable parts of these elders' apartments, and prepared food-stock for those who might have difficulty fetching supplies for themselves  [7]

  5. Media [9] [10] [11]
    • Updated typhoon news regularly
    • Helped raise awareness on preparatory measures
    • Reminded the public to be aware of any severe distress, since some people may have excessive worries or anticipatory anxiety due to the possible damages brought by Mangkhut

  6. Government
    Convened inter-departmental meetings for response plan. Some response measures of various departments are extracted below [12]
    The government called inter-departmental meetings (left) and held a press onference (right) to prepare for the super typhoon.
    (Source:Information Services Department, HKSAR)

    1. Hong Kong Observatory [13]
      • Closely monitored the track of the typhoon

    2. Fire Service Department [14]
      • Prepared emergency workers and equipment for deployment, e.g. inspection of potential flooding sites to allocate manpower and equipment for possible rescue operations
      • Maintained close contact with Security Bureau and other departments concerned for possible response measures

    3. Home Affairs Department [15]
      • Communicated with Districts Officers about the needs of elders living alone
      • Laid out contingencies for different typhoon signals:
        • Standby Signal No. 1: Activate hotline services
        • Strong Wind Signal No. 3: Open Temporary Shelters
      • Disseminated evacuation reminder for residents in low-lying areas

    4. Drainage Services Department [16]
      • Reached out to residents in low-lying areas for preventive measures against flooding, e.g. installing water gates and pumps
      • Inspected and cleared drainage vulnerable to blockage

Lessons Learned

With all concerted efforts, Hong Kong was more than lucky to suffer no serious casualties from Mangkhut. Successful preparedness rests upon the active participation and good coordination of all parties, which was demonstrated in our preparations for Mangkhut.

On the other hand, there were requests for the government to increase collaboration with the community. For example, leaders of resident-led organizations in Tai O urged the authorities to disclose statistics of elders living alone in the neighborhood for better deployment of volunteers and resources. They also urged for more frequent communication with the authorities to avoid resource overlap [6]

The general public seemed to have shown active participation in the preparedness of the typhoon. However, local advocate of disaster preparedness and response, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Disaster Preparedness and Response Institute (HKJCDPRI) found that most citizens did not prepare for potential water shortage and power cut due to the failure to realize such possibilities. Therefore, the HKJCDPRI recommended a comprehensive review of disaster preparedness and response plans from all stakeholders. Further information about HKJCDPRI's survey and recommendations can be found on their website [17].

Response Phase

Hong Kong Observatory released a video to show and analyze the power of the super typhoon.
(Source:Hong Kong Observatory

As Typhoon Mangkhut moved closer and Hurricane Signal No. 10 was issued on 16 Sep (Sun), most public services were suspended. There were a few reports of property damage and fall of equipment at construction sites. The strong wind also swung buildings and brought floods to coastal households. Despite the serious damages, the city showed fitting response in general [18] [19] [20] [21]

  • The Hong Kong Observatory and media provided regular updates on typhoon news.
  • Emergency workers were on standby and ready to deploy upon requests from those in need.
    Emergency responders were deployed to Lei Yue Mun when Hurricane Signal No. 10 was in force.
    (Source: Apple Daily)
  • Public utility companies sent staff for emergency restoration work.
  • Most citizens followed the repeated safety reminders to stay indoors.

Lessons Learned

Thanks to the cooperation of citizens to stay indoors, there were no fatal casualties as Mangkhut slammed the city. Meanwhile, tribute was paid to the emergency workers who efficiently aided people requiring support [19] [22].

The Hong Kong Observatory and media made frequent updates about the typhoon to keep citizens aware of its threats. Some residents also circulated videos and photos of damage in different districts to alert each other, although a number of those sources were later identified as irrelevant to Mangkhut [23]. This implies a need to rely on credible sources regarding updates on disasters.

Recovery Phase

Mangkhut paralyzed the city for 29 hours, during which Typhoon Signal No. 8, 9 and 10 were in effect respectively since 16 Sep (Sun) [2]. After the cancellation of Typhoon Signal No. 8 at the next day (17 Sep, Mon) at 5:20am, the city started to resume its routines, with public transport and businesses gradually restoring their operation.

  1. Transport
    Before Typhoon Signal No.8 was canceled in the early morning, different government departments and public transport operators such as MTR already deployed technicians to carry out urgent repair for road surface and traffic lights [24]. Despite the collaborated efforts across departments, most public transport services were disrupted due to the extensive damage caused by the strong typhoon [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33]

    • MTR
      Facilities along outdoor sections of the railway were severely impaired, which only made it possible for MTR to provide limited services. Among all lines, the East Rail and Light Rail lines suffered the most significant impact, causing crowds of passengers to be stuck in the stations.

    • Bus
      More than 100 bus routes were suspended due to the blockade of major roads by fallen trees. Most districts were met with congested traffic.

    • Taxi and Minibus
      Due to the disruptions of MTR and bus services, many citizens turned to taxis and minibuses. Some taxi and minibus drivers are reported to have charged extra fees amid a surge in demand and poor road conditions. While some passengers reacted with understanding, others were outraged.

    • Ferry
      Most ferry services could not resume immediately, affecting people who live on outlying islands.

    • Flight
      More than 800 flights were canceled and 1,000 flights rescheduled, affecting at least 3,000 travelers.

  2. Work arrangement

    Since transport services and road conditions were not fully restored by the rush hours to allow smooth commuting, many citizens were unable to report duty on time [34].

    These pictures were widely circulated online to depict the hassle and frustration of many workers attempting to report duty after the storm.
    (Source: Internet)

    In the light of the chaos, Chief Executive of HKSAR Mrs. Carrie Lam urged employers to be thoughtful and flexible with work arrangement on that day [35]. Some companies and public organizations responded to the appeal [36] [37] [38]. Yet some citizens claimed to have lost bonus or holiday leave due to their late arrival to work [35].

  3. Street cleaning

    In the aftermath of Mangkhut, trash, debris, fallen twigs and leaves were found everywhere, blocking the way of vehicles and pedestrians. As soon as the typhoon left Hong Kong, the government deployed extra manpower to clear the streets [24], while citizens also volunteered to clean up public areas, such as local residential estates, streets and waterfront to fulfill their civic responsibilities [39] [40].

    The considerable amount of debris required a long time to clear [41]. Some citizens started questioning the progress in cleaning, as the aftermath of the storm did not cease to disrupt their daily routines [42].

  4. Tree care and disposal

    Manghkut has caused damage to a significant number of trees. The authorities inspected the conditions of trees post-typhoon, and removed hanging branches and unstable trees for public safety. To store the wood waste, the government has set up a temporary collection area in Kai Tak where free pick up for recycling was allowed [24].

    In retrospect, tree experts pointed out that the mismatch in tree species and planting locations, as well as the lack of routine tree care had combined to cause the high rate of tree fall [43].

  5. School

    On 16 Sep (Sun) night, when the Hurricane Signal No.10 was still in force, the Education Bureau (EDB) announced class suspension for all kindergartens, primary, secondary and special education schools in the next day, 17 Sep (Mon), whether or not there would be any Tropical Cyclone or Rainstorm Warning Signal in effect [44]. Such an arrangement helped ease the demand for public transport to some extent.

    For the safety of students, class suspension was extended for one more day to 18 Sep (Tue) to continue the unfinished work of reparation and cleaning [45].

    EDB also granted extra funding to the schools which required replacements of impaired facilities and equipment [24].

Lessons Learned

The chaos in the recovery phase could be avoided if we have a proper recovery planning before disaster, such as predicting possible damages and preparing corresponding measures to react to them. Resources can be identified in advance and countermeasures to potential impacts discussed during the planning process (see Preparedness: For Community).

After the destruction brought by Mangkhut, the government initiated plans to review the preparedness, response and recovery actions to revise the existing Government Contingency Plan for Natural Disasters, as well as the mechanism of communications and coordination [46]. It would invite lawmakers' opinions on the revision  [47].

Some workers urged for the suspension of work upon severe weather. In response to such views, some lawmakers and union leaders suggested the possibility of drafting legislations for clear work arrangement under special conditions [48], e.g. allowing reasonable absence after inclement weather [49]. The government can consider views of various parties to formulate a better plan [50].

The confusion in work arrangement also suggested the need for discussion between employers and employees beforehand to ensure staff safety and smooth operation under and after inclement weather. General guidelines of relevant matters can be found in the "Code of Practice in Times of Typhoons and Rainstorms" from the government  [41] [51].

Tree experts recommended improvement of tree care and re-plantation of resilient and adaptive tree species. The government would launch the "Street Tree Selection Guide (Guide)" by April 2019 and urge departments responsible for routine tree care to refer to the Guide  [52].

Public transport services were in turmoil subsequent to the attack of Mangkhut. Not long after, MTR was caught in another service disruption with four of its lines paralyzed by signaling errors (October 2018). Meanwhile, there was also a service delay of Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) due to computer system failure (February 2019). In the light of frequent disruptions of public transport services, there is a pressing need to review the operators' contingency plans to minimize the impact on passengers [54] [55]

Closing Remarks

Given the magnitude of Mangkhut, the relatively low casualty number marked a partial success of the city's preparedness and response measures. However, there is undoubtedly room for improvement, especially regarding the work for the recovery phase. By reflecting on the lessons learned in previous disasters, we can prepare better for the future hazards and make HK an even safer place to live. 

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