Good Morning (Afternoon, Evening, or Night- whenever you’re reading this)!
I spent most of the month of November away from home (11/1-29) on Hurricane recovery assignment- St. John Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (Virgin Islands National Park). It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience (really!). The Islands had experienced two Category 5 Hurricanes within 2-weeks, leaving them in many cases without adequate water, food, shelter, fuel, electricity, etc. The residents maintained their incredible positive nature through continued greetings of “Good Morning” (or whatever the appropriate time or “Good Day” would be). The people are what made the sojourn fantastic. I’d like to share a few of my experiences there with the phenomenal people and places of St. John. First however, I’d like you to please read this as a preface: https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2017/12/hurricanes-recovery-and-resiliency-caribbeans-national-parks
“The Good”… (and there was plenty of that)
An amazing amount of recovery work was accomplished during my brief stay on St. John. BBC Electric (from Missouri) seemed busy day & night bringing electrical power back to sections of the 4 x 8-mile island. The NPS Incident Management Team (IMT) I was the Safety Officer for was a composite IMT (personnel were from all across the country- Puerto Rico & V.I. to Alaska). Of course we weren’t alone in our recovery efforts: Global NGO D.I.R.T (Disaster Immediate Response Team) was present, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), US Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers, Bloomberg L.P., Kenny Chesney’s Love For Love City Foundation, The American Red Cross, The Small Business Administration, and many, MANY others. More about these organizations, and how to donate, is addressed below.
|Our IMT Vets working 11-11-17|
It is oft noted that there is no “I” in “team”. In this case there were a lot of I’s (and “eyes”) with this IM Team. To say folks were proactive in helping us all achieve our incident objectives (#1 being safety) would be a gross understatement. The daily efforts of the NPS IMT centered around the areas of facility stabilization (roof, building & electrical repairs, mold mitigations & removal), roads & beaches (debris removal & emergency repairs for access/use), marine operations (replacing & repositioning navigational, commercial and public buoys; removing terrestrial debris, like house roofs, from park waters & reefs), displaced vessels (close to 100 of those damaged were in park waters, many on sensitive reefs), cultural & natural resource assessments and emergency stabilization (hundreds of sites, historic structures & artifacts), and facility operations, trying to get the park back to a semblance of normal activity.
|Hawksnest Beach pile|
|Los Diablos (Big Bend NP)|
During my 28-day tenure we opened three beaches (Honeymoon, Hawksnest, and Trunk Bay) and got another (Cinnamon Bay) ready to open (strategic timing). GRTE Trail Crew members were also working on safety features at prime heritage areas, foremost Annaberg Mill.
“The Bad” (not so much: "we-be-bad" = good, right?)
Storm destruction and devastation, certainly: the east end of St. John has a community at Coral Bay where a wind gauge reportedly broke at over 225 miles per hour (hit by one of more than 25 tornadoes within the storm). Lives and dreams were shattered and ripped apart. A place where mariners normally went to shelter from the “Big Winds”, called “Hurricane Hole”, became a graveyard of sunken memories.
In addition to the storms, there were also some actions by a couple of NPS employees that were less than stellar. The positive ones overwhelmingly outweigh the bad behaviors. So, let us remember those.
There was a long list of hazards and potential health & safety issues that faced everyone. We really couldn’t fit in all of the mitigations into a one-page risk analysis (215a form), so developed a packet of safety information that was handed to arriving resources at check-in. Information about Zika and other blood borne diseases was also sent out to potential responders by the Emergency Incident Coordination Center. Unfortunately, that happened after some of us arrived, but as the old adage goes: “better late, than never…”
Back to “The Good” (or even “The Great”)
|SMOG at VIIS|
Our Special Marine Operations Group (SMOG) was assisted by the presence of Marine Vessel (MV) Fort Jefferson. It is the 2nd largest MV in the NPS fleet. Normally making runs from Key West, FL to Dry Tortugas NP, it was a valuable resource for our hurricanes recovery efforts in the Caribbean. They brought 22-tons of relief equipment and supplies to Puerto Rico (PR), and made regular runs between PR and the V.I. (imagine our surprise when 2-months later we received a bill from the authorities in PR for $37k, in docking fees: no joke). The Ft. Jeff was an integral part of our relief efforts. Its support of the diving operations was also significant.
|Ed Henson (IT) & JD Swed (Deputy IC)|
at Honeymoon Beach stairs
IT Specialists from Lake Mead (LAME) helped restore WiFi systems for the IMT and the public to communicate with. They also brought the Virgin Island NP telephone system back to usable status.
|Archeology Lab-Heritage Educ. Ctr.|
(Remains- Cinnamon Bay)
The CRM Specialists made great progress assessing damages to our heritage resources and developed stabilization plans. The park lost the oldest structure from wind and storm surge: it had served as the Archeology Laboratory & Heritage Education Center, located at Cinnamon Bay beach. Annaberg Plantation and Mill was also the site of stabilization efforts in order to get the area back safely accessible to the public. Some of CRM's many efforts were documented at: https://www.facebook.com/virginislandsNPS/videos/2000968853265554/ and https://www.facebook.com/virginislandsNPS/videos/2008947435801029/
Whatever I say about BBC electric, it won’t be enough. Their crews kept working on the restoration of electrical power day-after-day. Their deployment schedules long exceeded ours (like the Army Corp: 45-90 days at a time). When it was noticed that the parks radio system (which had not been operational for two years) HQ antenna was dangling by a cable, a Liaison Officer contacted them and they not only mitigated a very dangerous safety issue at a public entrance, but they came back and hoisted our Communications Unit Leader up to make longer-term repairs (way-to-go BBC!). When I asked a BBC crew one day at Trunk Bay what their most unexpected hazard was they stated: “the steepness of the terrain… and the many centipedes and scorpions.” I felt like I hadn’t left home. Good works everyone…
The hospitality and support provided by V-Islanders “blew my mind”. Truly warm & welcoming. Local markets donated fifty turkeys for a community Thanksgiving potluck in St. John’s Cruz Bay public-park. The challenge was finding 50 ovens, but they pulled it off and good times were delicious and plentiful. Most Sunday evenings found local musicians playing in the same space: magic times. Yes, I did leave a couple of Divine Dog Wisdom card decks behind…
|JD Swed photo|
NOTE: I didn’t use individual’s names because there were so many to acknowledge. I didn’t want to forget anyone (my bad), but one individual I need to mention is JD Swed. Not just because we go back 40-years (and times in between), but because he reached out and checked on my availability to be part of this incredible IMT that was put together (much like in prep for Katrina), In addition, his tireless efforts for 60+ days as Operations Section Chief (OSC), then Deputy Incident Commander and back again to OSC across 3 IMT’s was amazing, and certainly worthy of a “Safety Dude Doo Dah Award” (the check and award are in the mail amigo). I also didn’t include an “Ugly” category, reserving that for me: remembering my nickname from Frosh year of college (Glendale CC): “Big Ugly” or “Ug” for short.
|Grand Teton Trail Crew|
About organizations and where you can donate (if you wish):
Global D.I.R.T- http://globaldirt.org
Love For Love City Foundation- http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/kenny-chesney-loses-home-hurricane-irma-launches-foundation/story?id=49769695
Friends of Virgin Islands NP- https://www.friendsvinp.org
To donate: https://www.friendsvinp.org/donate
Employees & Alumni Association of the National Park Service- www.eandaa.org to donate, select “Disaster Relief Fund” bar.
Michael Bloomberg’s involvement- https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/11/21/how-michael-bloomberg-landed-center-virgin-islands-hurricane-recovery/880401001/
My heart remains with ALL of the employees of Virgin Islands NP & the residents of St. John Island. HAPPY HOLI-days! Safety Dude will never forget y’all…
|Trunk Bay beach|