Storms, particularly hurricanes, can be unpredictable. Therefore, NOAA’s hydrographic survey response teams that aid in the reopening of ports following storms, are designed to be flexible, proactive, and are on call 24/7 should the need arise to identify dangers to navigation.
Dorian became a hurricane on August 28 and reached Category 5 strength on September 1 as it made landfall over the Northern Bahamas. While there, the storm stalled and left communities devastated. It continued northwest bringing strong winds and storm surge along Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, and eventually made landfall over the Outer Banks of North Carolina as a Category 1 storm on September 6.
During the early stages of the storm and in anticipation of the storm reaching Puerto Rico and the Florida coast, Coast Survey staged both personnel and assets in locations outside of the hurricane impact zone so they would be ready to respond upon request. The Southeast navigation manager coordinated from Charleston, S.C., while and Mid-Atlantic navigation manager who initially remained in Norfolk, Va., traveled to Wilmington, N.C., once the storm approached the area. NOAA’s South Florida, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands navigation manager remained in Miami and embedded with the Coast Guard Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit (MTSRU). They coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate and prioritize hydrographic survey requests from ports as they came in.
NOAA’s navigation response team (NRT) homeported in Stennis Space Center pre-staged in Tallahassee, Fla., and received the request to survey Brunswick, Ga. The team completed surveying on September 9. NOAA’s NRT homeported in Fernandina Beach, Fla., pre-staged in Miami in preparation for a possible more southerly storm impact. However, as Dorian tracked north with relatively minimal impact to southern Florida, they returned to their homeport area and surveyed St. Mary’s River nearby. The mobile integrated survey team — led by NRT members who quickly mount, configure, and operate portable survey equipment on a vessel of opportunity or deploy autonomous vehicles — also pre-staged in Tallahassee. The team mobilized to South Carolina to survey the Little River Inlet. One of Coast Survey’s hydrographic survey contractors, eTrac, surveyed Beaufort and Morehead City, N.C., and the approaches to Wilmington.
Preliminary survey products identifying dangers to navigation were developed and delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard by NOAA navigation response teams to aid in decision-making in reopening ports.