EMA officials host hurricane simulation exercise


ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — It’s Tuesday, Aug. 27 and Hurricane Dori is churning in the Atlantic heading for Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico with an expected landfall on Friday, somewhere along the Alabama-Mississippi-Florida Gulf Coast.

With expected landfall so close to the Labor Day holiday weekend, officials in Baldwin County are already gathering at the Emergency Management Agency’s central command office in Robertsdale to discuss not only how to coordinate shelters and potential storm damage, but also how to evacuate and/or maximize the safety for the hundreds of thousands of visitors planning to come to Alabama’s beaches for the three-day weekend.

Over the next 24 hours, Dori skirts the southern coast of Florida and the northern tip of Cuba, remaining offshore which means that it has steadily gained size and strength on its path toward the Gulf Coast.

By Thursday, Dori has shifted its path and is looking to hit the Mississippi coast directly, putting the dangerous east side of the storm squarely on the shoulders of Baldwin and Mobile counties.

Like hurricanes Michael and Katrina before her, Dori is becoming a massive storm, projected to make landfall as a strong Category 2 with tropical force winds stretching out 200 miles.

By Thursday, Dori has slowed down in the warm Gulf waters, leaving its projected landfall into Saturday, possibly into the afternoon hours.

Shelters have been activated and officials are dealing with the backing up of traffic since the governor has not opened all lanes of traffic along the evacuation route to head north.

In the end, Dori makes landfall as a strong Category 2 storm with maximum winds of 111 miles per hour, causing a 7- to 11-foot storm surge and widespread damage from strong winds, tornados and flooding along Fish and Styx rivers.

Obviously, it is not August, it’s still May, but officials with the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency were hard at work, getting together with Baldwin County Commissioners, along with other state and local agencies to hold a Hurricane Simulation Exercise on Tuesday, May 7 at the EMA Central Command.

While it may not quite be a worst-case scenario (although the simulation was patterned after last season’s Hurricane Michael which pounded the Florida Panhandle) it does provide a good test for local officials, said EMA Director Zachary Hood.

“Anytime you have extensive damage and flooding it can be a worst-case scenario for us,” he said. “The main thing we are looking at in these scenarios is the possibility of flood damage, which accounts for over 75 percent of the damage.”

Preparation is especially important this year with three of the four Baldwin County Commissioners just beginning their first terms of office, with several new department heads across EMA the staff, including Hood, who took over as director in April.

“At this point, I have been on the job for just over 30 days,” Hood said, “and most of that time has been spent going over our severe weather plan to make sure we have everything in place.”

Following the May 7 simulation, which was coordinated by Training and Shelter Coordinator Scott Wallace, officials were debriefed, and everything was analyzed. No matter what the season – which begins June 1 – brings, Hood is confident that all involved will be prepared to ensure the safety of Baldwin residents.

“Everything we do is to ensure the safety of our residents, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “I have been most impressed by how everyone has come together with a common goal and is working hard to put the best plan in place. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”