June 4, 2012

Even before the Atlantic hurricane season officially got underway June 1, two named storms were formed, with one – Tropical Storm Beryl – dumping rain over much of the Southeast over Memorial Day weekend and into the last week of May.

Fortunately, Michael Peery, general manager of Signature Flight Support at Georgia’s Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), was prepared. As he watched the remnants of Beryl dump sheets of rain on his ramp, ground crews dressed in black and bright-yellow rain slickers handled incoming and departing traffic efficiently despite of the deluge.

Beryl was a great opportunity for Peery to test the latest iteration of his emergency operations plan before hurricane season officially got underway. The plan outlines procedures, for before, during and after a major storm or other natural disaster, and it’s required reading at Signature facilities worldwide.

“We evaluate the situation,” explained Peery. “In the case of a tropical storm like Beryl, the first thing we do is secure the GSE [ground support equipment]. Anything out on the ramp area that could potentially become a projectile in strong winds is secured inside the facility or inside the hangars. Aircraft are secured on tie-downs, triple-chocked to the greatest extent possible. If it were to become an actual hurricane with damaging winds, the owners would be contacted and we would recommend they remove the aircraft from harm’s way.”

Peery said it’s vital for owners and operators of both based-tenant aircraft and transients to leave detailed contact information – especially during hurricane season.

In the case of Beryl, the tropical storm hit south of Savannah and quickly became a tropical depression. The biggest threat to SAV was minor flooding as the storm dumped up to 15 inches of rain throughout southeast Georgia.

Still, Peery ran through his emergency operations manual, covering all the points, securing the ramp and making sure tenant contact information was up to date. Had Beryl posed more of a threat, Peery said he would have made sure the fuel tanks were topped off and that other expendables kept on hand were fully stocked, and then he would have prepared his staff for evacuation.

“If [Chatham County] declares a total evacuation, we have a team that evacuates to the University of South Carolina Beaufort campus, just across the state line. We would have that team evacuate to that area 12 hours before landfall. Then we would be the first group back in 12 hours after the storm passed,” he said.

Signature’s emergency plan for SAV also outlines procedures for assessing storm damage and reopening the facility – both in a limited capacity for emergency operations just after the storm, then for the resumption of normal services.

But perhaps the most important part of the plan, Peery said, is preparing one’s own family for the storm.

“Our emergency operations team will be tasked with securing the facility while, in the back of our minds, we’re thinking about our families and our personal situations away from the airport,” he said. As critical as it is to plan for the survival of the FBO and the resumption of full service, it’s more important to plan for your family’s well being.

“First and foremost, we must take precautions to protect human lives,” he said.