Tuesday, April 17, 2007

NSA NOLA Readies for Hurricane Season

Editor's Note: My personal blog, the Btown Monitoring Post (http://monitor-post.blogspot.com/), will have extensive and continuing coverage during the hurricane season including active HF frequencies to monitor during these events. The season starts on June 1. Be sure to check the Btown Monitoring Post frequently for updates.

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Poe, Naval Support Activity New Orleans Public Affairs

NEW ORLEANS (NNS) -- More than 100 base and tenant command personnel from Naval Support Activity (NSA) New Orleans attended two days of briefings, hosted by NSA’s Emergency Management (EM) Team and the local Community Support Center (CSC), April 9-10 in preparation for the 2007 Gulf Coast hurricane season.

The briefings touched on varying subjects that apply to service members who may be ordered to evacuate the region, essential personnel who are ordered to stay behind to provide assistance, and things all personnel can do today to ensure readiness in the case of an actual emergency.

Lt. Cmdr. Neil Uemura, NSA’s EM officer, explained base instructions such as Condition of Readiness (COR) levels.

“COR 5 needs to be set on June 1 (the official start of hurricane season) and is the minimum standard throughout the summer,” said Uemura. “During COR 5, leaders should be doing things like posting a destructive weather bill and verifying recall lists, while everyone needs to be conducting thorough inspections of their spaces and reporting anything that may not be stable in the case of high winds.”

The COR Levels run from five to one with A and B variations for COR 3 to COR 1, depending on if the approaching storm is an official hurricane or just inclement weather. For example, if COR 1A is needed, that means a major hurricane is due to hit the New Orleans area within 12 hours. If this were to occur, non-essential personnel should already have departed the region and EM personnel should report to their designated Emergency Operations Center.

Whether they’re base personnel or tenant command service members, Uemura said the completion of all COR level responsibilities are to be reported to NSA’s EM to ensure a smooth line of communication.

In the case of an evacuation, Uemura also touched on things like Louisiana’s Contraflow system, an initiative shared with other storm-prone states which turns South Louisiana interstate highways into exit-only roads for efficient escape from a probable storm.

“New Orleans is in a precarious location with only one interstate running through it,” said Uemura. “It’s important to plan your evacuation route now and I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic by recommending you fill up your vehicle’s gas tank more frequently during hurricane season. Like we saw during [Hurricane] Katrina, if an evacuation is ordered, gasoline will undoubtedly be at a premium.”

As an example of lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, Uemura briefed the audience on NSA’s Continuity of Operation (COOP) Team. The COOP team is made of base personnel who will evacuate to Fort Worth, Texas, and be NSA’s eyes and ears in case conventional communication lines fail in New Orleans.

Though NSA tenant commands should have their own mustering procedure for evacuees, the COOP team has a toll-free phone number and an e-mail address for any evacuated NSA service member to contact them for accountability purposes. The COOP team will in turn be communicating with Navy Region Southeast (NRSE), NSA’s parent command, for up-to-the-minute status reports on the base and its service members.

While Uemura talked about operational-type needs for the base itself, CSC personnel spoke more about ways to prepare today in the case an evacuation is ordered.

A large part of CSC’s contribution to the briefs was the importance of proper finances in the face of a disaster. CSC recommends that service members have the minimum financial equivalent of three months worth of essential living expenses set aside in the case of an emergency. While three months' expenses is deemed adequate, they added that six months is more desirable.

In the case of an evacuation, individuals can find themselves on the road for an indefinite amount of time and the CSC recommended having a sufficient amount of cash on hand and possibly a credit card reserved for emergencies. They also added that a credit card should be a secondary resource because if telephone-type communications are down in a widespread area, businesses will most likely not be able to process credit cards and therefore not accept them for payment of goods and services.

The CSC distributed preparedness checklists to the audience which contained tasks such as photographing your household belongings, having tools like an axe or a working chainsaw on hand, making sure your vehicle is in good working order and to have a non-cordless telephone in the home in case wireless communication is ineffective like it was in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Service members aren’t unfamiliar with important training year-round, but Uemura said April’s hurricane awareness training was especially important because the risks involved in a New Orleans hurricane season have been a proven reality.

“There’s a lot of reasons we’re susceptible to storm danger,” said Uemura. “We’re on the coast of a body of water [Gulf of Mexico] that can get very warm in the summertime, which is what a hurricane feeds off of. We’re practically surrounded by water if you include the Mississippi River, our elevation is below sea level in a lot of places and we have limited routes of evacuation. It’s very important that we plan ahead so when ‘the rubber hits the road,’ we’re ready.”