Navy launches annual storm exercise
Apr 17, 2012
The following article was posted to keysnews.com on April 17, 2012:
Navy Launches Annual Storm Exercise
By Adam Linhardt
Naval Air Station Key West officials were hurriedly making arrangements Monday as Tropical Storm Quebert barrelled up the Caribbean Sea toward the Florida Keys in a mock hurricane drill.
The fictional storm was expected develop into a hurricane and pass some 50 miles west of Key West as of Monday afternoon, but officials were eyeing it closely and preparing for the worst as part of the two-week long exercise HURREX/Citadel Gale 2012.
The annual safety and protocol training is done at Navy bases nationwide and is of particular importance this year, base commanding officer Capt. Patrick Lefere said. Hurricane season starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30, but the past three years have been quiet with no major storms affecting the Keys. Given that many sailors are stationed in Key West for only a few years, Lefere wants to make sure every sailor, contractor and family member knows how to respond to a major storm.
“On average, Naval Air Station Key West transfers about one-third of its military population each year,” Lefere said in a prepared release. “Given the relatively light years we’ve had the past few seasons, most of our military families here are not familiar with local and air station procedures for hurricane readiness.”
The exercise runs through April 27, and it’s designed not only to keep sailors safe, but to maintain the base’s ability to operate under adverse weather conditions, base spokeswoman Trice Denny said. The exercise includes pre-storm and post-storm drills.
On Monday, the base was at Condition of Readiness Three, Denny said. If a real storm were threatening the Keys, that means base workers would begin shuttering windows, all visitors would evacuate and families would be told to be prepare to evacuate, Denny said.
The Condition of Readiness ranges from five to one, with one meaning a storm is 12 hours away and packing destructive winds.
“We stay at Condition of Readiness Five for all of hurricane season,” Denny said.
One protocol called the Navy Family Accountability and Assessment System makes it imperative that the captain and other senior staff be able to locate all personnel quickly, and that they are able to muster, Denny said. Such readiness takes a tremendous burden off of Monroe County, said county Emergency Management Director Irene Toner.
The Navy typically operates a few steps ahead of the county in terms of evacuations. Should a storm be heading toward the Keys, the Navy is included on all countywide emergency conference calls.
“That they have such a plan is very helpful to us,” Toner said. “To have such a large body ready to evacuate such a large number of people, already with a destination, gives the county one less thing we have to worry about. They take us into consideration and they make my life much easier.”
Toner also called the Navy a great resource, given its high level of preparedness should the county ask for federal assistance.
“If we are in a bind and we request a C-130 or helicopters fly in for supplies or anything like that, they’re right there for us,” Toner said. “We never have to go looking for them, so that makes the Navy crucial to us.”
Like many Keys residents, Toner was crossing her fingers as we head into another hurricane season. Forecasters at the Colorado State University called for a relatively inactive hurricane season — 10 tropical storms, with four becoming hurricanes, according to colostate.edu.
“I would say I’m cautiously optimistic for another good year, but if not, we’ll deal with it,” Toner said.
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