It’s May and that means officials in Florida are gearing up for hurricane season. That includes Wednesday morning’s annual exercise in Escambia County.
Packing Category-4 winds of up to 150 miles an hour, Hurricane Coleman is a mirror image of 2004’s Hurricane Ivan in a statewide tabletop scenario. And, according to that scenario, Coleman has inflicted major damage on Escambia County.
“We’re seeing a pretty good devastation on both barrier islands,” said John Dosh, Escambia County’s Emergency Manager. “Access to both barrier islands is limited to none due to under-washing of the bridges. We’re seeing quite a bit of storm surge damage on the back bays.”
In all 67 Florida counties emergency operations are focusing on internal processes and training: in other words, what to do.
“Out towards Perdido, the Warrington community, Navy Point; in the city [of Pensacola] and certainly up in the Ferry Pass community we’ve got a lot of water impacts that are occurring,” Dosh said. “We’re actually seeing some substantial structural damage to homes.”
“[The drill] is mainly people getting acquainted for the first time, and some reacquainted in their roles to protect the community,” said Public Safety Director Mike Weaver. The biggest change from last year’s drill, are new faces and/or old faces in new places.
“Folks need to rehearse what their new position is; some are completely new to the organization or to the seat,” Weaver said. “Or some have been promoted and have taken a different piece.”
Hindered at first by an Internet outage, which was resolved early in the dril, the operations room was crowded with a number of agencies and companies represented, beginning with first responders, police, fire and emergency medical.
“Infrastructure, Gulf Power, the cellphone companies,” said Weaver. “We’ve got the [Escambia County] School Board; the Red Cross, Salvation Army, government agencies.”
“The number-one priority for all of our operations right now is life-saving; that’s our focus,” EOC Chief John Dosh told the room. For him, it’s a matter of setting priorities both during and after the storm, and then coordinating the resulting activities.
“Damage assessment is another priority; we want to get out there and figure out how bad, ‘bad’ is,” Dosh said. “We need to know what the impacts of our community area are. Because from a home perspective, from an infrastructure perspective, all those things that we need to have in order to start making the appropriate steps to get our community back into recovery phase.”
Hurricane Coleman went away around noon, when the exercise concluded. Public Safety’s Mike Weaver says the data generated will be crunched.
“We will take all of the information that each one of the agencies are entering into Web EOC, our data tracking,” said Weaver. “And then we’ll see some lessons learned.”
Hurricane season, for real, kicks off June 1 and runs through November 30. And the first predictions are out already.
“We’re forecasting an above normal season; a total of 14 [named] storms, seven of them hurricanes and three major – Category 3-5,” said Phil Klotzbach at Colorado State University. It’s a calmer forecast than 2017, which had 17 storms, ten named and six majors, respectively.
“At this point, we don’t think a significant El Nino is going to develop this year,” Klotzbach said. “The Atlantic right now is a little warmer in the western Atlantic, a little cold in the eastern Atlantic; it’s kind of marginal. Some of the models are indicating a decent amount of anomalous warming.”
The National Hurricane Center is due out with its predictions on May 24.