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MacDill evacuates Charley's near miss

by 1st Lt. Erin Dorrance
6th Air Mobility Wing public affairs
Photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Chisholm

Senior Airman Jon VanDyke, 6th Civil Engineer firefighter, watches intently as the latest developments from Hurricane Charley are given on Tampa's local news stations during the storm Aug. 13. The hurricane was predicted to make landfall directly in Tampa Bay but made landfall earlier than expected.

As planes and people evacuated, MacDill was virtually closed when Hurricane Charley's path threatened to plow over the base as a category 4 storm.

People who work and live at MacDill took Charley seriously, as did several thousands of Tampa Bay residents -- so seriously that Pinellas and Hillsborough counties ordered an evacuation of zones A, B and C.

Thankfully, Charley was a near miss for MacDill and the Tampa Bay community.

"Thanks to several exercises and proactive plans, MacDill evacuated with ease," said Col. Don Halpin, 6th Air Mobility Wing commander. "The MacDill community pulled together to ensure a safe evacuation for every single person living on base and the departure of our aircraft."

Multiple teams at a variety of locations, ranging from the Florida State Fairgrounds to Raymond James Stadium and various "ride out" centers were necessary to ensure a successful weathering of the storm, he said. It was the excellent leadership and communication between these teams, which included wing, mission partners and local authorities that made this operation a success.

By Wednesday morning, Colonel Halpin ordered a crisis action team meeting, to include mission partners, where the team discussed Charley's predicted path and the base plan. MacDill's aircraft evacuated throughout the day Thursday. Additionally, Colonel Halpin ordered an evacuation of all base residents and sent all non-essential personnel home to take care of their homes and families.

By midnight, the command and control center at the Florida State Fairgrounds was in full operation with about 130 MacDill members. Back at MacDill, small teams of people prepared to "ride out" the storm. This was the first time MacDill evacuated and relocated to an alternate location since September of 1998 when Hurricane George threatened the area.

"The Florida State Fairgrounds was very accommodating for our purpose," said Colonel Halpin. "We were able to deploy all our equipment and set up operations in minimum time. Our support from and integral with the local authorities was excellent."

As Charley shifted toward the Fort Myers area in the early afternoon Friday, MacDill members began to breathe a little easier; however, they were concerned for their southern neighbors who were soon to be hit by the Category 4 storm.

By midnight Friday, the threat of the storm had gone away and MacDill's teams began to reopen the base. Full operations were resumed by Saturday afternoon.

"We came close to a lot of damage on and off base," said Colonel Halpin. "Team MacDill really pulled together and made my job easy. They executed wonderfully."

As MacDill continues normal operations, the base has received no formal requests to aid Hurricane Charley victims, however, Colonel Halpin noted that team MacDill stands ready to help.




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