Before the storm: Prepare now for hurricane season

  • Published
  • By Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Hurricane season begins June 1, and it could be a busy one according to this year's forecast of 8 to 10 hurricanes by leading tropical meteorologist Dr. Bill Gray with Colorado State University.

While a person can try to predict the weather it certainly can't be controlled. However, what is in a person's control is their ability to have a plan in place for worst case scenarios.

Planning for the worst case is David K. Townsend Jr.'s job.
"It's important to have a plan in place for you, your family and your pets," said the CSC employee who is the installation emergency manager responsible for helping the base prepare for hurricane season. "The time to prepare is now, not when the storm is looming in the Gulf."

To prepare and effective family disaster plan individuals should first have all the facts. Regardless if an individual lives on or off base, it's important for a person to know if they live in an evacuation area and how vulnerable their home is to storm surge, flooding and wind, according to the National Weather Service National Hurricane Center. Individuals can research their risks at and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Map Portal at

Communication is key to any plan, so maintain a contact list for reference to include family members and how to get in contact with them should severe weather occur. Also, list unit points of contacts, such as a supervisor, squadron emergency management representative, first sergeant or commander, as well as local agencies. Some agencies to consider include the emergency management office, county law enforcement, local governments, public safety, fire and rescue, hospitals, utilities, TV and radio stations and personal insurance agents.

Keesler personnel are required to review and update their Form 21, Hurricane Sheltering Intentions, by the seventh of every month during Hurricane season, which is June 1 to Nov. 30. This provides vital information to leadership on each person's shelter or evacuation intentions.

Having appropriate equipment and supplies can also be vital in a time of crisis.

"Assemble and maintain an emergency family disaster kit now as this will facilitate an expedient evacuation," said Daniel L. Ward, CSC employee and an emergency management program analyst for the base. The site has a comprehensive checklist at

This is also the time for individuals to plan for their home's safety because once severe weather strikes it may be too late. Individuals need to ensure they have appropriate property, health and life insurance.

It's important to understand your insurance policies, said Lt. Col. Brandon Hart, 81st Training Wing staff judge advocate. The SJA advises personnel to place insurance policies and all important papers and documents such as passports, birth and marriage certificates, vehicle titles and receipts in a safe place, centrally located, that's easy to grab in case of evacuation.

"Also, video or photograph your property," he said. "You may want to e-mail those files to yourself so you can access them from any location."

Home owners should know what needs to be done to secure their house and property before a hurricane strikes.

"Make plans now to secure your home," said Ward. "The last thing you need is for you lawn furniture and garbage cans to become projectiles. Your mitigation efforts can eliminate unnecessary property damages and hazards."

Townsend recommends that personnel familiarize themselves with their community's public information resources. These sites will have information on evacuation routes and shelter locations.

Harrison County:

Jackson County:

Hancock County:

"Keesler leadership will assess the storm and will determine who will shelter on the installation," said Townsend. "During a hurricane, the base will work closely with Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson County Emergency Management Agencies, who will let Keesler Air Force Base personnel know what off-base shelter locations are available to people and pets, and this information will be conveyed to the base populace. It's vital for base personnel to be aware of and adhere to base directives, and monitor the wing's Facebook page ( along with local TV and radio stations."

When it comes time to evacuate, personnel should know the difference between a voluntary and mandatory evacuation order because they will only be reimbursed for their expenses if the installation commander declares a mandatory evacuation, said 2nd Lt. John Concepcion, 81st Comptroller Squadron financial service officer. For voluntary evacuations, commanders issue a pass, but they are not reimbursed for lodging, meals or incidentals.

It's important to note, for all the military members and civilians who reside off base, that the Mississippi coastal counties may advise vacating low lying areas.

"To avoid becoming a victim of the storm surge all individuals who live in those affected areas should heed local government's recommendation to seek higher ground," said Townsend.

"When the base leadership directs you to evacuate, do not evacuate parallel to the coast," said Townsend. "The Mississippi Department of Transportation instructs all evacuees to head north as outlined in their Hurricane Guide, and know which evacuation route you plan to take."

Evacuation routes are posted online at in the Travel section, emergency services page as well as on the Keesler website in the hurricane information section.

"If evacuating the area, have safe havens pre-identified, and fuel up," said Ward. "The last thing you want is to run out of gas on side of the road."

Once the storm has passed, call the Air Force Personnel Center Hotline at 1-800-435-9941 for return information. Also, if directed, login to the Air Force Personnel Accountability and Assessment System, or AFPAAS.

The biggest issue emergency managers deal with is complacency, which can be deadly, said Ward.

"Immediately after a natural disaster or major event, people begin taking the hazard more seriously and place emphasis on their plans and emergency kits," he said. "After a few years, they can get a little complacent and overlook those same plans and kits. It's important to stay on top of this as you never know how you may be impacted."

To prepare base members for this hurricane season, the 81st TRW will host a series of Town Hall briefings for active-duty personnel, their dependents and civilian employees at the following times and locations:
- 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., May 28, at the Bay Breeze Event Center
- 11 a.m., May 30, at the Bay Breeze Event Center
- 11 a.m., May 30, at the Bay Ridge Community Center (Forest City Housing)
- 3 and 5 p.m., May 31, at the Bay Breeze Event Center

The briefing is mandatory for military and is highly encouraged for civilians and dependants.

For additional hurricane information and readiness checklists, visit the Keeler Hurricane information webpage at

(This is part three of a four-part series about hurricane preparedness. Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo is a reservist with the 512th Airlift Wing, Dover Air Force Base, Del., performing her annual tour with the 81st Training Wing Public Affairs Office.)