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By Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves Port Director and CEO
When it comes to hurricane season, the Galveston Wharves, its tenants and other maritime partners take a proactive approach. As we have for almost a decade, we host an annual hurricane preparedness meeting to review the season forecast, preparations and response plans.
More than 70 stakeholders attended our annual meeting on May 26 to hear updates from the National Weather Service, U.S. Coast Guard, and Port of Galveston staff.
Our 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.
New Notification System
At the meeting, port staff introduced our new emergency notification system for anyone who would like to receive critical, time-sensitive information about events significantly impacting port operations. These include severe weather alerts, fog delays, U.S. Coast Guard port status changes, channel closures and other emergency situations. Port staff will also provide information for non-emergency situations such as road closures and power outages, along with instructions if needed.
To register, text “POGNotices” to (409) 978-8030. When prompted, provide your first name, last name and email address.
Port hurricane preparedness 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.
As a first step, 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. 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. These 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.
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. We also 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.