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MacDill's 'hurricane veterans' better prepared than ever

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

There's no substitute for experience when it comes to preparing military members for future action and that means most of those at MacDill are battle-hardened veterans when it comes to hurricanes, having been through four big threats and a couple near misses last season.

The experience and lessons learned during last year's record-setting Florida hurricane season mean MacDill is ready to deal with whatever Mother Nature may dish up this season, which officially kicked off June 1, said Larry Clark, MacDill's emergency readiness coordinator and member of the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron.

"One of our greatest assets will be our people, particularly the command, which after last year has the experience," said Mr. Clark.

While everyone has their fingers crossed that nothing close to last year's barrage will threaten the Tampa area this season, forecasters are calling for another unusually active hurricane season, said Mr. Clark, which is why such attention is being paid this year heading into summer.

Last month's hurricane exercise came off very well, he said, and with tweaks and changes implemented following the lessons learned last season, MacDill is ready for the worst, even as it is hoping for the best.

Mr. Clark said while prior to last season plans and procedures were "more philosophical," this year the experience of preparing, acting and evacuating, means concepts have become more concrete. Despite dealing with four hurricanes in one season being new territory for the base, all went off very well with no major complications last year, said Mr. Clark. Changes this year amount more to "fine tuning" than anything else, he notes, and most of those relate to better coordination and action on time tables as they relate to check lists and decisions as a storm approaches.

While last year commanders and emergency officials had options to "consider" as the disaster unfolded, some of what was considered has moved to the must-do list. Further tuning resulted in less redundancy and better communication between different groups on base.

"Out check lists are more definitive and efficient and more reactive in the decision making process," said Mr. Clark, who added that timing was good last year and the base didn't face time crunches as it evacuated and prepared for a hit. The "ramp up" to a storm should be as orderly or more so should another storm threaten this season, he said.

While there were lots of little lessons learned last year, the big lesson came in the example of what happened to Punta Gorda, slammed hard by a Hurricane Charley that was predicted to pass it on its way to Tampa Bay and MacDill when it took a sudden east turn.

"We were ready because it was predicted to hit us," said Mr. Clark. "They were not expecting what happened to them and the lesson is clear: be ready."

Mr. Clark said it the lesson was that "don't know what a hurricane is going to do until it does it." He also said it doesn't matter how many storms there are, because it only takes one.

His advice to those at MacDill? "Be concerned but not overly."

Airmen and others on base should know their safe houses and evacuation routes. If there was anything learned by those evacuating last year it was the coordination with your safe house host is important, as some arrived to find no one home or suffered the consequences of miscommunications such as whether it was okay to bring pets. Check first and cover all the bases beginning now, he advises.

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