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‘Preparation is key’: Emergency management team shares hurricane readiness tips

Space Launch Delta 45 issues five different hurricane alerts known as Hurricane Conditions. The Delta’s emergency management team encourages service members and their families to be aware of these conditions and have a safety plan in place before one is implemented. (U.S. Space Force graphic)

Space Launch Delta 45 issues five different hurricane alerts known as hurricane conditions. The Delta’s emergency management team encourages service members and their families to be aware of these conditions and have a safety plan in place before one is implemented. (U.S. Space Force graphic)

PATRICK SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. – Violent winds that gust up to 170 mph slam into the building tearing the roof off. Trees and homes are destroyed. Hangars protecting the F-22 Raptor sustain significant damage.

This was the reality in October 2018 when Hurricane Michael slammed into Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, causing mass devastation.

“Our base took a beating,” Col. Brian Laidlaw, then commander of the 325th Fighter Wing said.

One thing that helped service members and their families at Tyndall AFB, was their readiness posture. The base heeded hurricane warnings and responded accordingly to protect people and resources. Aircraft were flown to bases in other states and many service members and their families fled the base ahead of the storm under emergency evacuation orders.

It is only a matter of time before a hurricane threatens Patrick Space Force Base or Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Space Launch Delta 45’s emergency management team wants everyone to be ready when that moment arrives.

“You have to put the work in ahead of time to be ready and there are some things everyone should do,” said Mike Biggerstaff, 45th Civil Engineer Squadron emergency management plans and programs coordinator. “Everyone should create a hurricane preparedness kit with at least three days’ worth of non-perishable food, a gallon of water per person, per day, a flashlight with extra batteries and a weather radio. You must also have a plan. Know where you will go if an evacuation order is issued, how you will get there and ensure you have everything you need.”

Planning early is critical, said Dan Jernstedt, 45th CES Fire and Emergency Services director of emergency management.

“We realize that hurricanes may not be at the forefront of people’s minds,” Jernstedt said. “We all get busy, it’s not something many people often think about, especially with inflation and the challenges they face every day. Despite that, it’s only a matter of time before a hurricane happens so you need to be aware of actions you should take.”

Jernstedt recommends people maintain their vehicle gas tank at no less than half full, and if it needs to be filled, to not wait.

“The days prior to a hurricane making landfall, gas stations tend to get overrun with customers,” Jernstedt said. “You also shouldn’t wait until the last second to build your kit because the stores will be overrun before a hurricane arrives.”

It is also a good idea to have a couple hundred dollars in cash stashed away as ATMs will likely run out of money quickly if a hurricane warning is issued, Biggerstaff said. Pharmacies will also be very busy so it is highly recommended people have a complete supply of any medications they require.

Biggerstaff also stressed the importance of knowing hurricane terminology and the differences between military and the civilian community regarding hurricane alerts.

Brevard County issues hurricane watches and warnings, the military implements hurricane conditions or HURCONS and there are five, Biggerstaff said.

Hurricane Condition 5 (HURCON 5) is issued 96 hours prior to the onset of sustained surface winds more than 58 mph. At that point, Biggerstaff said, people should put their plan into action.

“Patrick SFB and Cape Canaveral SFS are located on the barrier islands, which are mandatory evacuation areas should Brevard County issue an evacuation order,” Biggerstaff said. “When that notification goes out, people need to enact their emergency plan and ensure they have all they need. This is also a good time to quickly grab something that may have been missing from your kit like a flashlight or batteries. But don’t do the shopping for your entire kit at this time, because the stores will be flooded with shoppers.”

Since 1851, Florida has been hit by 121 hurricanes including 37 major storms, according to the Tampa Bay Times. In 2020, the United States was hit by 12 named storms — the most in 104 years — and six were hurricanes. Fortunately, none of those hurricanes struck any portion of Florida’s 1,350 miles of coastline, even though four hurricanes took aim at the Sunshine State.

“Preparation is key, if you don’t take care of you, who will?” Biggerstaff asked.

For information about hurricane alerts and other major events across Brevard County, text Brevard EOC to 888-777. For more information about hurricane preparedness at Patrick SFB and Cape Canaveral SFS, visit SLD 45’s Hurricane Information page. Information on hurricane readiness can also be found on the Air Force’s Be Ready website.