Florida Seaports Weather the Storm and Thrive through Meticulous Emergency Response Preparedness
Hurricane Irma tested the emergency response preparedness at every seaport in Florida. This unique hurricane covered the entire state and closed every major fuel and cargo operation at our seaports over several days, and provided us with some keen insights concerning local and state continuity of operations and resumption of business plans.
Many lessons were learned in 2005 from Hurricane Wilma, including the critical securement of infrastructure and terminal power. As a result, the ports sustained minimal damages from Hurricane Irma, kept terminals open as long as possible, and reopened in record time.
Ports worked with the Governor's Office, law enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, harbor pilots, Department of Transportation, and state Emergency Operations Centers. The coordination of these entities secured ports and made allowances for priorities: petroleum, cruise passengers, and perishables.
Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the harbor pilots expedited channel surveys so ships could return to port and we could resume normal business activities as soon as possible. The petroleum terminal operators at the ports maintain a storm reserve supply that protects their tanks during the storm, and so that they can begin making deliveries to retail gas stations following the storm before ships are even allowed to re-enter the port.
Off-port staging areas for empty tank trucks away from the coast were established so the truckers could be ready to return to the port as soon as it was safe to resume fuel deliveries. The terminal operators helped us prioritize the reentry of petroleum ships to meet the highest needs after the port re-opened; many ships waited a safe distance offshore for the storm to pass in order to start moving in as soon as the port condition status was decreased.
While fuel was getting on to the ports quickly, there was a problem in the supply chain because distributors and truckers could not possibly keep pace with the demand, and highways were full of evacuees. In some cases, debris was blocking roads and powerlines were down, further prohibiting deliveries.
To solve the issue, Florida Governor Rick Scott directed the Florida Highway Patrol to escort fuel trucks from Florida's petroleum seaports to the gas stations to re-supply the gas stations quickly. He also appealed to the federal government to temporarily lift the Jones Act so non-U.S. petroleum tank ships could enter the ports directly. Governor Scott also waived truck weight limits and engaged other states to do the same.
After the storm passed, the port's highest priority was completing a damage assessment of access roads to the terminals so that they would be clear for trucks to resume operating as soon as the systems at the petroleum terminals were restored. Since having power restored was critical for the petroleum terminals to receive deliveries, ports worked closely with power companies to focus on this critical need.
The preparations done before Hurricane Irma allowed Florida seaports to perform efficiently and safely before, during and after Hurricane Irma. The state's ports are always growing and developing, and will continue to implement emergency preparedness techniques to ensure our practices and equipment are on the cutting edge.