In the Eye of the Storm

When the 2004 hurricanes hit, one man reached out ... and an industry responded.

Says Crosby, “Those of us out West came back and thought we should have a WESTDOG, a Western airport group. And since then we’ve worked with the trade associations to tie together a network of regional volunteer organizations.” This has led to the formation of other groups, including NEDOG in the Northeast, MIDDOG in the Midwest, and AIRDOG, the national coordinating effort.

Graham at Savannah explains that, despite no formal agreement, the procedures, needs, and coordinating priorities are much more clearly defined today. “We have a SEADOG procedure manual that we go by; we have a website for it so airports can go on and see what personnel and equipment are available.

“We’ve all come to the basic understanding that for ten days you have no commercial service. And you might not have any power.”

Among some of the others lessons learned since 2004 ...

  • “I’d never send my people without RVs,” says Graham. “There’s an RV Campworld a few miles down the road from here — if I send them again I will go down and buy whatever I need. When they get there they have nowhere to stay.

“We all know now that they need to be pretty much self-contained when they get there, where they don’t need anything else from anybody. Again, we’re talking a week to 10-day period. All we’re doing is trying to get the airfield and the airport operational, and then back away.”

  • Fuel for vehicles — diesel and gasoline — becomes a big issue, according to Graham. “We’ve worked out agreements with the National Guard,” he says. “They have a lot of fuel over there and we’ve worked out an agreement so we can use that fuel. Now we have written agreements with the government.”
  • Knowing who and what is available, and from where, are critical, all agree. Comments Graham, “Greg’s [Kelly] got a listing of things that are needed on a normal basis. And he’s got a listing of which airports have them.”

Adds Crosby, “Part of the problem we had in New Orleans was that we had calls from 40 or 50 airports to ask if they could help. If you have one airport as the screening airport, it’s helpful. For example, I can coordinate all the things the West has to offer. If we have four or five DOGS around the country, an airport like New Orleans will have to make [only] four or five calls.”

  • While the efforts remain voluntary, the procedure has become much more formalized, says Graham. “If it’s bearing down on Jacksonville or Savannah, then Pensacola or Orlando is going to be in charge of the relief effort for us, because we’re going to have our hands busy doing other things. We basically said that anything north of us, we’ll take the responsibility — like Charleston or Wilmington, North Carolina.”

Savannah’s plan
For its own part, Savannah/Hilton Head International recently constructed a new operations center, the design of which was greatly influenced by the SEADOG experience, relates Graham. He says the last direct hit on Savannah came from Hurricane David in 1978, with minimal damage because it wasn’t a major storm. “We’ve been very lucky with the big ones,” he says.

The new operations center is built to be hurricane-resistant and is today the center of command in an emergency — for airport personnel and local fire and rescue.

“We and the county have a contract here with a company to build a tent city here if we ever need it,” says Graham.

“Another thing we learned is, if you can’t provide housing for the airport’s employees and their families, then you’re not going to get your employees back. If your employees have lost their housing and you want them to work you have to provide them shelter. We’re structured to do that; we have a contract to build a tent city and for operating it.”

He explains that Savannah has put life support systems in the terminal to keep the airport operational. “Our food and beverage operator is hooked up so they can provide food. We have a couple of gates that are hooked up so that we could provide gate useage,” he says. “But again, the focus is not on getting back up on a commercial operation basis because that will come around.

“We’re 70 percent tourist traffic; if we just got hit with a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, it’s going to be a while before those tourists come back. So you’re not really going to have that much traffic. Your traffic is going to be the traffic in your relief effort.”

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