WIHA Hears Talk on Hurricanes
by Marianne Salza
There are many low-lines and coastal lands at risk in the Boston area during hurricane season, June 1- Dec. 1, and much of Winthrop is a potential flood hazard. United States Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Frank Kulesa spoke to Winthrop Improvement & Historical Association (WIHA) members about storm response efforts and maritime history during a March 7 presentation in the Deane Winthrop House Barn.
“When we talk about pre-storm preparedness, there are two things we look at: how do we protect our personnel, and how do we make sure they’re able to respond once the storm comes? Hurricane force winds can be hundreds of miles beyond the eye of that storm,” says Kulesa. “Post-storm search and rescue, and life and safety are number one.”
For 16 years Kulesa has primarily been working in the fields of emergency management, environmental response, and law enforcement security in New Jersey, North Carolina, and the Caribbean. Now as the Chief of Contingency Planning & Force Readiness at Sector Boston, Kulesa is responsible for the safety of coastal areas and mariners from the New Hampshire border down to Plymouth.
“Every day in the Coast Guard we are doing search and rescue,” Kulesa says. “We have about 40-50 cases a day, and we save and assist about 10 lives on a daily basis.”
The Coast Guard will typically close the port 12 hours before the arrival of a storm, and may suggest the evacuation of certain vessels, such as large container ships over 300 gross tons. Hurricane winds can be 74mph (Category 1) to over 155pmh (Category 5).
One of the largest search and rescue cases was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when 30 feet of water was pushed up the Mississippi River. Upwards of 60,000 people on the Gulf Coast were evacuated, and 33,000 people were rescued.
“Two thousand five is the record breaker. I think there were 26 named storms that year. On average, you see 12-15,” Kulesa says. “There were four Category 5’s. The season toll had $159 billion worth of damage, and almost 4,000 fatalities.”
One of the largest maritime evacuations was during the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The Coast Guard organized an evacuation of some 500,000 people in Lower Manhattan. Tug boats and recreational boats were used to bring people closer to their homes.
“There are so many government assets, both state and city, as well as great relationships with the private sector and commercial access,” says Kulesa. “When something like that happens, we put a notification out on the radio and request all available assets to go there. Within minutes, there were several water taxis and New York City Police.”
Hurricane Katrina and Rita collectively amounted to the 3rd largest oil spill in US history. Some 2 million gallons of heavy fuel were spilled. About six feet of oil sat on top of ten feet of water that covered the town.
Within the Port of Boston, there are several oil storage facilities along the Mystic and Chelsea Rivers, as well as cement and power plants that could pose a potential danger during hurricanes.
“We could be at risk here,” says Kulesa. “Across our waters are about 20,000 rec boats, vessels that have sunk over time. They can be everything from small crafts to massive WWII ships.”
Kulesa encourages residents to leave their homes during an evacuation, listen to local guidance and alerts, and be aware of weather conditions. He urges families to create emergency plans, kits, and communication arrangements.
“The general rule is you should be able to sustain for 72 hours. Make sure you have food and water for your family and pets,” Kulesa says. “Preparedness measurers like moving debris, and moving furniture from the first floor to the second floor could minimize damage.”
Kulesa suggests knowing the flood zones and checking your home insurance. It is important to remove or trim damaged trees and limbs, and reinforce roofs, windows, and doors. Kulesa encourages residents to keep their vehicles maintained and fueled, and have car adaptors for cell phones. Having cash on hand will also be helpful when ATMs are out of service because of power outages.
“When to evacuate is a local government function. It depends on how big the storm surge is and how fast it moves,” says Kulesa. “In general, evacuate earlier rather than later because trying to evacuate a coastal community with hundreds of thousands of people waiting to the last minute is not the best plan.”
Kulesa suggests adjusting refrigerators to the coldest settings to keep food fresher longer, refilling medical prescriptions, and storing water in clean containers and bathtubs so water will be available to drink, flush toilets, and wash with.
“We have two wonderful shelters in Winthrop. One is the Fort Banks School, and the other is at the Cummings School,” says Dotti Donofrio, WIHA member. “They’re fully equipped and ready to receive people and pets.”
To learn about resources, what to include in emergency kits, or receive alerts on storm conditions, visit: www.Ready.gov , www.FloodSmart.gov, the NOAA National Hurricane Center, or download the Mass. Alerts phone application.