By Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves Port Director and CEO
Meteorologists are forecasting above-normal activity during the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season with 14-21 named storms, 6-10 hurricanes and 3-6 major storms. Fortunately, Galveston Wharves is ready with a comprehensive preparedness and response plan built on years of experience and expertise.
Our first goal is to ensure the safety and welfare of the hundreds of people working on the waterfront and to take steps to protect port property. After the storm, our focus is reopening the port to commerce as soon as safely possible.
Hurricane preparedness at the port begins months before the peak of hurricane season. We coordinate our planning, communications and response with federal, state and local entities, as well as our staff, tenants, labor and other business partners.
In early June, we reviewed our preparedness plans with our tenants and other stakeholders at our annual hurricane preparedness and forecast meeting. Almost 70 people attended to get preparedness information from the National Weather Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and port staff.
As a first step in annual port preparedness, we collect and review our tenants’ updated hurricane plans. We also encourage them to conduct tabletop exercises and/or drills with their employees.
Brett Milutin, Executive Deputy Port Director, heads up our emergency response planning and preparedness. Brett has fine-tuned this plan for many years and used it as the basis for successfully dealing with the COVID pandemic.
When a storm threatens our area, we have regularly scheduled update calls with the National Weather Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. Then we communicate those updates to our stakeholders so they can take appropriate actions.
Our email updates include weather conditions, forecasts, marine safety bulletins from the Coast Guard and suggested and/or required actions.
The Coast Guard can declare four levels of port conditions, ranging from Port Condition Whiskey, triggered 72 hours before gale force winds are expected, to Port Condition Zulu, issued 12 hours ahead of gale force winds. Each level of declaration comes with Coast Guard requirements and instructions for vessels and facilities.
Depending on expected conditions, the Coast Guard could order all vessels to leave the area and the port to close to all vessel traffic.
In addition to emails, we use an emergency notification system and social media to provide updates to stakeholders. We want to provide accurate, up-to-the-minute information to port staff and tenants to help them prepare.
After a storm, we set up an Incident Response Team of essential personnel, if needed, to take care of operations, procurement, finance and planning needs. We coordinate recovery with government entities, regional ports and private contractors as we work to open the port for business after a storm.
Port police and Construction and Maintenance (C&M) crews go in first to do a safety assessment of the port. When safe to do so, C&M and contractors begin debris removal and salvage work.
To ensure that our docks are safe and waterways are navigable, port contractors survey port infrastructure and waterways, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveys federal waters.
We have mobile generators, high-water vehicles, a mobile command center and other supplies to aid in our response. This year, for the first time ever, we have a police boat that will be able to enter our channel quickly after the storm subsides.
Storm season can be stressful, but it helps to have a good plan for preparedness, response and recovery.