KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season, and with Keesler Air Force Base being located along the Gulf Coast, a high traffic area for hurricanes and tropical storms, it is imperative for Airmen and their families to know what to do in case one threatens the area.
Since 1930, there have been over 60 recorded hurricanes that have affected Biloxi, Mississippi. The most recent one being Hurricane Nate in October 2017.
Hurricanes will happen, but when and where is unpredictable. This is why the Keesler Office of Emergency Management hosts a variety of events to inform base personnel on what they should do in the event of a hurricane
“About two months before hurricane season you’ll see the wing start initiating that preparedness,” said Roger Swartz, Keesler Office of Emergency Management plans specialist. “They’ll start directing personnel to evaluate ride-out teams so they can get trained up on what to do if a hurricane were to hit us.”
One of the main goals at Keesler AFB is to support national initiatives set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and make sure they educate the base with the right information.
Swartz grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and has had first hand and professional experience with multiple hurricanes to include Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Georges and Hurricane Katrina.
“Preparedness for hurricanes and how to deal with them is very crucial,” Swartz said, “The better prepared we are before a hurricane strikes, the easier it is for the recovery process.”
In preparation for hurricane season, the emergency management office has hosted working groups, town hall briefings and base emergency preparedness orientations to inform base newcomers about the natural disasters that threaten the area.
Kayci Slagel, Keesler Office of Emergency management mission support specialist, says knowing how to prepare for a hurricane is necessary because some people are oblivious to the damage a hurricane can cause.
“People who come from the Midwest probably aren’t familiar with hurricanes,” Slagel said, “They need to know this is a threat to Keesler and how to prepare.”
The emergency management office hosted hurricane town hall briefings, May 15-17, which focused on how to prepare for a hurricane, how to respond to one and what to do when recovering from one.
“Things like processing travel and insurance claims or getting help post-disaster is important during hurricane recovery,” said Swartz. “The town hall briefing is a great opportunity for individuals to ask questions to the subject matter experts so they can be more aware of what’s going on.”
The 81st Mission Support Group led an emergency management working group where base personnel worked to discuss changes in Keesler’s hurricane plan. The evacuation procedures, number of individuals on the ride-out teams, and how accountability is taken were discussed.
“The emergency management working group allows entities that have a vested interest in developing and implementing emergency procedures and policies to work together,” Swartz said.
Keesler will continue the push for hurricane preparedness throughout hurricane season.
Some of their efforts are sending out Emergency Management quarterly newsletters, which are focused on hurricanes. The 81st Logistics Readiness Squadron will be hosting table-top exercises beginning in June and base-wide exercises will also be conducted.
“We get people from all over the United States when people join the military and they may not be familiar with how a hurricane can affect us,” Swartz said. “Making sure everyone is educated on how to prepare for hurricanes is important to the recovery efforts for their family and the base after one strikes.”
To prepare for a hurricane:
- Turn on your phone’s emergency alerts or download the Keesler Air Force Base app for information on extreme weather that is going to affect the area.
- Make plans for your evacuation. Map out multiple evacuation routes and locate the different evacuation zones and shelters. The base will notify Keesler personnel of evacuation instructions, units should notify individuals who are a part of the base’s ride-out team.
- Make a kit with enough supplies to last at least three days, including clothes, hygiene items and medication.
- Keep important documents in a safe place and create digital copies protected by a password.
For additional information on hurricanes, visit https://www.beready.af.mil/Disasters-Emergencies/Natural-Disasters/Hurricanes/ or download the following guides: How to prepare for a hurricane; be prepared for a hurricane; prepare your organization for a hurricane.