When Hurricane Maria touched down in Puerto Rico in 2017 Petty Officer 1st Class Darvin Ramos recalls that much was unknown and mostly everything became a lesson in hurricane preparedness. He is a yeoman who handled personnel and administrative support at that time.
Today, the Coast Guard has improved how we ready our members and our families. Members from the Emergency Management Division from Base San Juan, P.R., Lt. Lydia Renfrow, deputy, and Lt. Cmdr. Kimberly Shadwick, chief—share their most effective planning tips.
#1 Log into your Coast Guard Personnel Accountability and Assessment System (CGPAAS) account. Ensure your name, address, and location information are up-to-date. This is an important component of this personnel accountability and assessment system. In the event of a weather occurrence, personnel will be able to log into the system and see whether members and their families are safe or displaced. “It’s a way for us to keep accountability and see how folks are doing,” said Shadwick “and helps us manage evacuation orders.”
#2 Prepare Emergency Kits. While Shadwick and Renfrow acknowledge that emergency kits in Puerto Rico and Hawaii may be little slightly different than ones from the states, there are standards to be included in all kits like cash, for example. In the event that the ATMs and credit card machines go offline, you need to be prepared. Renfrow explains, “Living on an island can create additional challenges when recovering from a disaster. It may take longer to receive supplies, so extra consideration should be taken when building your emergency kits. Ensure you gather supplies to last a minimum of 14 days.”
Ramos adds additional context to kit development drawing on his experiences during Hurricane Maria. “I myself was without power for 72 days and without running water for 67 days,” he said. For a Category One hurricane, you would probably think you would need about two weeks worth of stuff—then double what you feel you will need. Cover your basic needs including water and batteries and don’t wait and just do it now while you have time and you have supplies,” he urged. Ramos is currently a Reserve Force manager who handles administration and training at Sector San Juan.
#3 Create Your Emergency Plan. Discuss with your family and think about how to prepare your home. Do you have storm shutters, or should you buy plywood to protect your windows? Is relocating the most viable option, and then consider how you will coordinate the safety of your family. What are their specific needs? Factors that can affect your plan range from dietary or functional needs, ages of family members, to pets.
“Whether you evacuate single or as a family, things can change significantly. If someone has a pet, you have to factor in those logistics and where are they allowed to stay. Take the time with your family to figure out a plan,” said Shadwick.
#4 Watch the Weather. The emergency management team suggests you pay close attention to the weather through specific websites like the National Weather Service or the National Hurricane Center, as well as, weather apps, local television and the radio. The Coast Guard sends broadcast notices to mariners and sends out a Marine Safety Information Bulletin to notify the maritime community of port condition changes they need to observe. There are six port conditions based on the timeframes of when gale force winds are expected in an area, which predicts the level of preparation needed. The Emergency Management Division works in partnership with the Prevention Department to distribute the safety information.