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Navy Region Southeast Prepares for Hurricane Season

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS130523-11

By By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Greg Johnson, Navy Region Southeast Public Affairs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- Navy Region Southeast participated in the annual hurricane preparedness exercise HURREX/Citadel Gale 2013 on May 23.

The U.S. Fleet Forces Command/Commander, Navy Installations Command exercise tested the region's ability to track, prepare for and respond to hurricanes should they threaten southeastern facilities.

'In the Southeast Region, it's not a matter of 'if' a hurricane will strike, it's a matter of 'when' and 'where,'' said Rear Adm. John C. Scorby Jr., commander, Navy Region Southeast. 'Since last year's HURREX, we have had five named storms impact our region, so it is imperative that we train so we are ready when they strike. Each year, this exercise gives us an excellent opportunity to test our skills through authentic, challenging scenarios that go a long way to ensure we are ready in the event of an actual hurricane.'

Over recent years, numberous major storms have affected regional installations. Joint Reserve Base New Orleans remembers the damage caused by Katrina in 2005. Less than a year ago, Hurricane Sandy made landfall just west of Naval Station (NS) Guantanamo Bay before moving toward the northeast.

During this year's HURREX scenario, the NRSE Crisis Action Team (CAT) tracked two fictitious hurricanes, Kirk and Lay, from the Regional Operations Center at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville. Kirk crossed over NS Guantanamo Bay and eventually made landfall as a category two hurricane near the Georgia-South Carolina border, and Lay made landfall as a category four hurricane near NAS Pensacola.

The CAT consists of nearly 50 personnel, each with specific roles ranging from planning and logistics to family support services. In addition to the CAT, the region also deploys a Contingency Engineering Response Team (CERT)/Damage Assessment Team (DAT), led by Naval Facilities Engineering Command, which assesses damage after the storm, as well as an Emergency Family Assistance Center, which provides support to families. Throughout HURREX, the teams coordinated their efforts with local authorities and civilian agencies like they would in the event of a real hurricane.

'HURREX is essential training,' said Scott Crossley, NRSE regional emergency manager. 'We get lots of tropical storms, but as often as we get landfall, we still see far too many casualties from people forgetting some of the lessons we've learned in the past. We've learned that too many injuries occur, even with lesser storms, after the storm has passed because people are trying to drive through flooded roads or trying to repair storm damage. By doing these exercises, it helps reinforce the message that this is a real hazard.'

During an actual storm, NRSE personnel coordinate with Fleet Weather Center Norfolk to track potential hurricanes and tropical storms from the beginning stages of the weather system.

'We are blessed to have a very good working relationship with the Fleet Weather Center,' Crossley said. 'We watch tropical weather year round, but as we approach the hurricane season, we really start watching closely. The public will start seeing hurricane alerts and warnings from the National Hurricane Center once a tropical storm is established, but for us, we have to see it as soon as it happens so we can get moving. A storm can pop up with little notice.'

Once a tropical storm is identified, its course and intensity are monitored. As the storm approaches an installation, the CAT must decide what actions to take based on a variety of factors.

The Navy classifies storms in terms of Conditions of Readiness (COR), which indicate the proximity of a storm and the likelihood that it will hit a given installation. At the beginning of the hurricane season, each installation is set to COR five. As storms approach, that condition will change at an installation based on when destructive winds are projected to hit. Installations set COR four when onset of destructive force winds is within 72 hours, COR three at 48 hours, COR two at 24 hours and COR one at 12 hours.

Once a storm is projected to make landfall at an installation, the decision must be made to evacuate or shelter in place. That decision is made based on a number of factors related to the intensity of the storm.

'We look at things like the maximum forecasted wind. That's the initial criteria to estimate what the impact will be on people and missions,' Crossley said. 'But the thing we are most concerned about, especially for coastal installations, is storm surge and water.'

It is essential for both personnel and dependents to be aware of advisories and instructions as a storm approaches.

'One of the objectives of HURREX for the installations is to ensure that not only the Sailors, but all of the residents on an installation are plugged into the hurricane process,' Crossley said. 'That means being aware of how to muster if evacuated, which varies from command to command. Also, making sure you have your wallet card from your command that has the number for you to call.'

Installations will also communicate through their command web pages and social media, so residents can look to these sources for the latest information.

Once a storm passes, the CAT shifts its focus to providing whatever kind of support is needed to get the installation running at full capacity based on reports from the CERT and DAT.

'The first step is a health and welfare check to make sure that everyone is safe and accounted for,' Crossley said. 'Step two is initial damage assessment of the installation. We need to ensure we have maintained command and control capability and find out if the installation utilities are still functioning or if they are affected to some degree. We try to start with mission-critical facilities, utilities and fleet support requirements and we go on from there.'

One of the most important things for people to keep in mind about the hurricane process is to be prepared for a storm well before it even happens.

'As the regional emergency manager, clearly our focus is regional planning and installation planning, but none of that works if the Sailors and individuals don't have a family plan,' Crossley said. 'You have to prepare as a person and as a family. If your family or you are not prepared, you're not going to be able to be part of the team's supporting response.'

Some important preparations include ensuring important documents are in a safe location, making sure family members have contact information in case of an evacuation, making sure prescription medications are readily available, and ensuring the special needs of family members can be taken care of.

If a hurricane hits an installation and residents are not evacuated, they should be prepared to operate independently for a period of three to five days, which would include a gallon of water per person per day and food that does not require refrigeration. Residents should also expect to be without electricity and should make sure they have flashlights and batteries.

The National Hurricane Center reports an average of more than ten named storms in the Atlantic Ocean each year. Of those, nearly six develop into hurricanes and many of them threaten to make landfall somewhere in the Southeast Region.

'We absolutely need to be ready,' Crossley said. 'It's not a matter of if one of our installations is going to be affected; it's a matter of when.'

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