Thursday, September 10, 2020

Hurricane Response Lessons from the Past: Hurricane Dora, September 1964

By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

 

Base Operations at Travis Field, Savannah, Ga. Nearly 70 families sought shelter from Hurricane Dora at the 165th Air Transport Group Headquarters
at Travis Field in 1964. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Introduction:

On September 10, 1964, Hurricane Dora made landfall just north of St. Augustine Florida drenching South Georgia with rain. The Georgia National Guard response to Hurricane Dora in 1964 provides insight into how the Ga. Department of Defense approaches hurricane response operations in the 21st Century. While the Ga. DoD of 2020 has the advantages of satellite coverage, internet and cellular phone communications, a review of the actions in 1964 demonstrate that many of the key response tasks of the Ga. National Guard have not materially changed since 1964. During recent hurricane responses such as Irma, Matthew and Michael, Georgia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have deployed on debris clearances missions, staffed points of distribution, retrograded aviation assets and provided power generation capabilities to civil authorities as they did in the wake of Hurricane Dora in 1964. While technology may have changed, the fundamental role of leadership and mission command in domestic response operations has not.

Dora’s Approach

On September 1, 1964, reconnaissance aircraft investigating a tropical depression in the Caribbean discovered a growing tropical storm. The next day, the storm reached hurricane strength and was designated Hurricane Dora.[1]

The Civil Defense Division Situation Board at the Ga. DoD Headquarters, Atlanta. Georgia Guard Archives.

The Civil Defense Division, forerunner of GEMA

Meanwhile, at the Georgia National Guard Headquarters in Atlanta, Maj. Gen George Hearn, Georgia’s Adjutant General monitored the storms approach and discussed courses of action with his civil defense directors. In 1964, the Ga. DoD was comprised of two divisions – the military division with the Ga. Army and Air National Guard, and a civil defense division. The Georgia Civil Defense Division was established through the Civil Defense Act of 1951 with the primary responsibility of preparing for the possibility of nuclear attack. Gradually, the role of the state civil defense divisions broadened to include other domestic emergencies, notably, hurricane response. In November 1978, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was established through the merger of several federal agencies that had a roll in emergency response. Accordingly, On July 1, 1981, Georgia’s Defense Division was redesignated the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.[2]


The Georgia DoD Response

As the days ticked away through the first week of September and impact to Savannah appeared increasingly likely, Hearn ordered the 165th Air Transport Group to begin assisting civil authorities with evacuation of hospital patients and long term care facilities in the Chatham County area. On September 8, the 165th ATG began transporting patients with Air National Guard jeeps and buses. The same day, the 165th ATG dispatched its inventory of C-97 Stratofreighters to Nashville to wait out the approaching hurricane.

Colonel Bill Kelley, Base Detachment Commander, Travis Air Field (second from left) with C-97 Stratofreighter. 


By September 9, Hearn had directed Col. Bill Kelly, base detachment commander at Travis to be prepared to set up field kitchens to provide food services following Hurricane impact. Kelly also dispatched Ga. ANG generators to vital infrastructure locations including police, fire and medical facilities. Nearly 70 families of service members living at Travis Field were housed at the headquarters of the 165th ATG. Among those seeking shelter were three expecting mothers.

1964 Tracking map of Hurricane Dora. National Oceananic and Atmospheric Administration Add caption

The next day, the Dora had reached Category 2 strength while its track had leveled westward sparing Travis Field a direct impact.[3] Just after midnight September 10, the eye of Hurricane Dora made landfall just north of St. Augustine Florida, approximately 120 miles south of Brunswick. That day, nearly 80 Soldiers of the Brunswick-based 3rd Battalion 118th Field Artillery were activated by Georgia’s Governor to assist city and county police in navigating debris-strewn roads. Brunswick’s streets were flooded to a depth of three feet while trees and powerlines were down throughout the region.[4] Guardsmen throughout the impact area were also stationed at businesses to prevent looting. Meanwhile, the Ga. Air National Guard’s 224th Radio Relay Squadron on St. Simons Island dispatched emergency power generators to Brunswick and St. Marys, Ga.  

After tracking westward and downgrading to a tropical storm, Dora tracked north at the Georgia, Alabama border and began a northeasterly transit of Georgia passing between Savannah and Augusta and dropping from five to ten inches of rain across southeast Georgia.[5] Dora dissipated over the Atlantic but not before causing upwards of 250 million dollars in damage in Florida and Georgia.[6]

Maj. Gen. George Hearn

Aftermath

Governor Carl Sanders, speaking to the National Guard Association of Georgia annual convention Sept. 12, 1964 in Augusta praised the work of the Georgia National Guard and its adjutant general.

"It is fitting," said Sanders "that I take this opportune moment to extend the gratitude of all Georgians to our most capable Adjutant General, George J. Hearn, who sprang immediately into action at the first sign of this recent crisis to provide the guidance and to exercise unified control over the civil defense activities within our State. This essential coordination and clear-thinking once again turned a time of crisis into a time of victory.”[7]

 




 

[1] “Hurricane Dora Calmed by Georgia Guardsmen.” Georgia Guardsman Magazine. September 1964, 12.

[2] “Civil Defense Changes Name to GEMA.” Georgia Guardsman Magazine, March/April 1981, 16.

[3]Hurricane Dora - September 7-15, 1964.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. https://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/tropical/rain/dora1964.html

[4] Horace S. Carter. Preliminary Report on Hurricane Dora. United States Weather Bureau (Report). Athens, Georgia. Sept. 11, 1964, 1.

[6] Dunn, Gordon E; Staff (March 1, 1965). "The hurricane season of 1964" (PDF). Monthly Weather Review. 93 (3): 177. Bibcode:1965MWRv...93..175D. doi:10.1175/1520-0493-93.3.175

[7] “NG Association Installs Rhodes, Names McKenna President Elect. Georgia Guardsman Magazine, September/October 1964, 6.

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