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It's hurricane season - But why do you care?

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --

Only four recorded Category 5 hurricanes have made landfall in the United States:

  • Labor Day Hurricane – 1935
  • Hurricane Camille – 1969
  • Hurricane Andrew – 1992
  • Hurricane Michael – 2018

I know, I know … Preparing for an unlikely disaster seems like a fool’s errand. I thought the same thing – until October 2018.

I was stationed at Tyndall AFB, and I was 10 days into my deployment when a ravenous Hurricane Michael (CAT-5) suddenly devoured my base and its neighboring cities, my friend’s and coworkers’ homes and all of my belongings in storage.

As an Emergency Manager, I’m ashamed to say, I was not as prepared as I could have been, and I regret not taking one of nature’s most destructive forces more seriously.

I urge you to not make the same mistake.

Delaware is not immune to hurricanes and the ruin they can bring. Take a few minutes out of your day to educate yourself, and ensure you and your family are prepared for the absolute worst.

Hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on November 30 of each year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has put out its forecast for 2020, predicting a busy Atlantic hurricane season. The outlook is predicting a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and only a 10% chance of a below-normal season.

NOAA is forecasting the likelihood of 13 to 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which six to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to six major hurricanes that are at least Category 3 (winds of 111 mph or higher).

NOAA provides these ranges with a 70% confidence. The average hurricane season usually has 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes. Typically, only half of those hurricanes develop into major ones.

Now, with all this above, you might be asking yourself some of these questions:

  • What exactly is a hurricane?
  • What are the hazards posed by a hurricane?
  • What can I do about it?
  • Where can I get more information?

Let’s see if we can help you with the answers.

What hazards are caused by hurricanes?

The most obvious hazard associated with hurricanes is the strong winds; high winds will uproot large trees, damage structures and force sea levels to rise and push inland as much as 20 to 30 feet. The low pressure produced by the storm allows water levels to creep higher, and as the water builds up with nowhere to go, the “storm surge” can inundate low-lying areas and towns along the coast.

Floods from a storm surge normally last a short time, usually just a few hours, but can cause tremendous destruction. When a storm surge happens at high tide, the flooding is even worse.

After a hurricane lands on a coastal area, it may travel inland. As it moves inland, the storm will typically weaken, but it can still cause extensive damage. Heavy rains from the storm may cause rivers to flood their banks, producing additional flooding. In general, flooding causes the majority of casualties during a hurricane. Hurricanes may also spawn tornadoes and airborne debris, which present additional hazards.

What can I do?

Well, you can prepare. Educate yourself, and “be ready” before the storm arrives. Have a plan for what to do when the storm approaches. Have a means to track the storm. Follow local news and weather updates. The base may also provide information on storm projections and actions individuals should take. Become familiar with the base mass notification systems, like AtHoc, Giant Voice, desktop messaging and local systems, such as the national Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Delaware’s Emergency Notification System (DENS).

Personnel should know the meaning of the Emergency Notification Signals. This graphic should look familiar, as it should be displayed on every unit’s information board along with who their Emergency Management Representative is. Get to know your EM representative, and learn more about hurricanes and other natural hazards from them.

Know where to go in the event of an evacuation and how to get there, establish an assembly point for family members to meet if separated and choose one person everyone can contact with their whereabouts and statuses. Be familiar with accountability processes like AFPAAS or your unit’s specific actions.

Federal Emergency Management Agency, the NOAA, the National Weather Service and other Offices of Emergency Management (OEM) recommend having a “to-go-kit” or “bug-out bag” with at least three days’ worth of necessary supplies to help you “weather the storm.” Your kit may vary, but it is recommended to have water, food, clothing, medicines, hygiene products and other items. There are many sources for lists of recommended items, but the Dover AFB Office of Emergency Management offers its own hurricane brochure with a list of items to consider. Being knowledgeable about actions before, during and after the storm can make all the difference in the world.

It is also recommended you learn your hurricane evacuation routes. Most primary evacuation routes have signs, which direct personnel to major highways that lead out and inland to help the population get away from the effects of the storm. It is critical to know where these routes are, along with any alternate means of evacuation. The state of Delaware is geographically unique within this region, as the peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding bays. More information about the evacuation routes for the state can be found at https://deldot.gov/information/projects/tmt/evac_map.shtml

Where can I get more information?

In previous years, the Dover AFB Office of Emergency Management hosted an annual Hurricane Block Party in order to raise hurricane awareness and kick off preparations for hurricane season; however, due to COVID-19 concerns, this year’s event was cancelled – But that does not mean you cannot get the information. The Air Force “Be Ready” site has lots of information on hurricanes and other potential hazards in our area. “Be Ready” resources are provided by the Dover AFB Office of Emergency Management with the help of unit EM representatives.

The Installation OEM is always available to assist with your emergency management needs. You can call 677-6212/6216, email 436CES.CEX@us.af.mil or simply swing by our office during normal duty hours (7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.).

Hurricane preparedness this year must take into consideration how the coronavirus will influence evacuation and mass transit operations, such as how sheltering is managed. To that end, FEMA has provided the following planning strategy to prepare, respond and recover: “COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season.”

State resources include the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) site, which teaches how to plan and develop a kit, and Ready.gov.

The National Weather Service offers a wealth of information and resources as well.

BE PREPARED, BE READY!!!