By Anna General
Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs
It was a close call for the Hawaiian Islands as the eye of Hurricane Douglas, a Category 1 hurricane, swirled north of the island chain. As it grazed the northern tip of Oahu, delivering minimal damage, it spared the island of what could have been a triple threat.
As emergency alerts blasted personal mobile phones of a hurricane warning, and sirens were heard around the island on July 25 and 26, Navy Region Hawaii (CNRH), Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) and Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) worked strategically to prepare for a possible hurricane.
The emergency operations centers (EOC) at JBPHH and PMRF, along with the CNRH regional operations center (ROC) were the focal point of information for Rear Adm. Robb Chadwick, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, who drew on their information to order Pearl Harbor ships and submarines to sortie ahead of the storm.
“The whole point of a sortie is to get ships out of the harbor and to get them underway to a location away from the hurricane. We call it a safe haven out to sea,” said a CNRH operations department representative. “They will stay in that particular location until they are clear to return to port. The reason why it’s safer out there is because with the ships moored at the harbor, it could potentially bring damage to the ship from destructive winds and can get slammed across the pier.”
While ships went underway for safety, the CNRH ROC and JBPHH EOC continued to work with teams to provide the base community with helpful information to stay informed and to prepare.
“In preparation for Hurricane Douglas the ROC coordinated closely with the other services and federal, state and local government emergency management officials to ensure Navy Region Hawaii efforts were aligned with key partner agencies,” said Shawn Morrissey, director for Operations at CNRH.
“One of the biggest things that I think we did was we were very proactive in coordinating with all of our leadership. They did a great job and they were able to communicate to the public the information that is important in preparation for Douglas,” said Warren Ferguson, JBPHH emergency management officer.
Ferguson was impressed with how the new joint base commander, Capt Erik Spitzer, took control of the EOC on the same day that he assumed command of JBPHH.
“Our new joint base commander, Capt Spitzer, did an outstanding job considering he’s only been on the job for four hours. He went in just controlling the EOC and making great decisions during our time in the emergency operations center,” said Ferguson. “I was so impressed with our leadership and our department heads for joint base. They really came together and collaborated well. We got so many things accomplished in just a few short days to prepare the installation for the potential of the hurricane hitting. We developed some new processes and refined the ones we already had.”
Tony Allen, CNRH regional emergency management program manager, shared his perspective about the hurricane and how it was handled.
“We were lucky that it did miss the island but the good thing about it is, it enabled the Navy and the military services to practice what we’ve been doing for the last few years to get ready and to see what we needed to do – what worked well and what didn’t work well. Probably 90% of the actions that happened worked well.,” said Allen. "There was a few little tweaks but it showed that the military, especially the Navy, is ready to take care of our affected population - our service members, our families and our dependents.”
With CNRH and JBPHH teams collaborating on Oahu, the PMRF emergency management team also had preparations of their own on Kauai.
“Fortunately PMRF has pre-planned responses and check lists. When we start hitting our TCCOR [Threat Cyclone Conditions of Readiness] process and recovery, we can then implement those plans,” said Kelly Balmores, PMRF emergency management officer. “Our end goal is to have everything - structures, systems, personnel all taken care of and we need to shelter, so when the hurricane passes and we go into recovery, it can all be brought back to normal operations.”
“The main message I circulate is stay informed, make a plan and make a kit. I emphasize be prepared in advance because if you’ve never been on Kauai when a hurricane is imminent, the shelves go bare quickly. So if you wait until the last minute, there’s going to be nothing there,” Balmores added.
Although Hawaii dodged a big hurricane this time around, hurricane season runs through Nov. 30. Hawaii residents are encouraged to continue to prepare their 14-day supply of emergency necessities.
“Follow what is being directed and told to you by the state and other local agencies. Have 14 days of a emergency kit prepared, make sure your gas tanks are filled in your cars, make sure your batteries and your phones are charged,” said Allen. “If a hurricane was to really hit the Hawaiian Islands, we might be out of power for 14-21 days, so you need to make sure that you are prepared for that.”
“We in Hawaii depend on ships to get all our supplies, it takes a long time for them to get here and you want to have a 14-day supply of food, water and various things to be prepared for a hurricane in case we lose power. The number one thing is to be prepared and have a kit.”
Visit www.ready.gov for additional hurricane preparedness tips.
(Editor's note: Published in the Ho'okele magazine - August 2020 edition as a part of Hurricane season and the aftermath of Hurricane Douglas)