When Hurricanes Go Rogue
Responding to Hurricane Dorian’s Unpredictable March up the East Coast
When Hurricane Dorian formed in late August, initial projections had it on a collision course with Florida. As the days progressed, however, the storm path shifted northward, leaving municipalities and businesses up the east coast and into Canada scrambling to plan for Dorian’s potential impact and response. In light of the unpredictable nature of the storm, the FIRST ONSITE operations team made a critical decision to create a mobile command center to follow along the storm’s path and deploy response teams based on community needs. Using a new “storm chaperone” model, across Dorian’s expansive recovery area enabled FIRST ONSITE to quickly respond to customer needs with zero missed timelines.
UNDERSTANDING THE SITUATION
Although scientists and researchers have significantly improved the accuracy of hurricane models and forecasts over the years, the science remains inexact. Given all of the variables involved in predicting storm paths and intensity, errors remain inevitable. Hurricane Dorian, which experts described as uncommonly unpredictable, was a case in point. Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas as a catastrophic Category 5 storm and was expected to hit Florida with a similar intensity. That’s before the storm stalled out for more than a day over the Bahamas. By the time it started moving again, the models indicated Dorian would likely shift westward with the storm skirting the east coast and Eastern Canada at lower intensities.
While Dorian was over the Bahamas and still expected to hammer Florida, the FIRST ONSITE operations team had initially planned to set up a centralized response command center in Orlando. The new path meant that there was potential for damage to large swaths of buildings along much of the east coast. And that created a complex logistics challenge for FIRST ONSITE.
When Dorian turned northward, the FIRST ONSITE operations team realized operational flexibility was going to be critical for the duration of the storm. To maximize resources and speed response along the coast, the operations team decided to abandon the plan for a single command center. The new plan was to employ a “storm chaperone” model that would rely on a mobile command center capable of following the storm’s path. The goal was to monitor damage along the coast and quickly deploy teams in areas where customers sustained damage. With Dorian projected to impact Canada, the U.S. and Canadian operations teams also considered mobilizing some U.S. staff to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, should they be needed.
As Dorian progressed, FIRST ONSITE performed an on-the-go analysis of storm intensity and customer density in impacted areas. FIRST ONSITE’s Fort Worth headquarters acted as the communications hub in support of the difficult logistical efforts. Throughout the duration of the storm, FIRST ONSITE strategically deployed teams according to the needs in a given area, with smaller teams covering lightly damaged areas, full teams responding to highly damaged locations, and additional teams following along and standing by to respond to new damage.
Dorian ended roughly 15 days after it formed. Over the time it was active in North America, Dorian impacted five states along the east coast, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, as well as parts of northeast Canada. Despite the extended path of the storm, FIRST ONSITE met 100% of projected timelines for clients that were affected by the storm. The key to success was not anchoring resources to one central location and adopting the nimble storm chaperone response model. The model enabled FIRST ONSITE to successfully calibrate its responses across a 900-mile swath of damage from Fort Pierce, Florida to Virginia Beach, Virginia. While it turned out that U.S. resources were not needed in Canada, the FIRST ONSITE operations team worked through all of the legal and immigration hurdles needed to easily transfer teams across borders. That means that FIRST ONSITE is even more prepared for large cross-border operations in the future. Overall, the storm chaperone model was so successful that the operations team has added it to its disaster response plan and will use the methodology for responding to coming storms that behave in a similar manner. The operations team is confident that the model can help FIRST ONSITE compress customer downtime for a more rapid return to business as usual.