Hurricane 2020: How Port Tampa Bay gets ready for storm season | Column

Port Tampa Bay’s top official explains how the port gets ready for hurricane season by simulating a natural disaster.
Left: Port Tampa Bay CEO and President Paul Anderson: Right: A cruise ship docked at Port Tampa Bay in March.
Left: Port Tampa Bay CEO and President Paul Anderson: Right: A cruise ship docked at Port Tampa Bay in March. [ CHRIS URSO | Times | Port Tampa Bay ]
Published May 30, 2020|Updated June 1, 2020

Port Tampa Bay realizes the importance of preparing for an emergency before it strikes. While our community, nation and globe continue to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we remain vigilant and proactive against another threat, Florida’s hurricane season. The COVID-19 pandemic tested our strength as a community, but we continue to work together to provide support, assistance and help to our neighbors in need. Hurricanes and tropical storms are probably the last things we want to think about right now and the impact of severe weather during or immediately following a pandemic has the potential to be absolutely devastating. This is why it is so critically important to prepare to the greatest extent possible before hurricane season begins.

For the eighth year in a row, Port Tampa Bay hosted our annual Hurricane Preparedness Tabletop Exercise on May 27. The hurricane preparedness exercise is one of many choreographed exercises that prepares several Tampa Bay area agencies for all possible emergency and crisis scenarios. As we well know, Hurricane Irma targeted the Tampa area in 2017, prompting significant challenges. And in 2018, we saw Hurricane Michael cause widespread devastation in Florida’s Panhandle.

Related: Hurricane 2020: Seven things to know about a hurricane season like no other

Port Tampa Bay plays an important role during a tropical storm, hurricane or severe weather. The port continues operations during a storm, providing fuel to the state of Florida and beyond. In fact, Port Tampa Bay provides nearly half of the fuel supply for the state.

Paul Anderson is the president and CEO of Port Tampa Bay.
Paul Anderson is the president and CEO of Port Tampa Bay. [ Port Tampa Bay ]

Each year, the Hurricane Preparedness Tabletop Exercise is held with the National Weather Service to refine and improve our response to a storm. This year, the port invited several external partners including the Coast Guard; Customs and Border Protection; the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office; the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County Emergency Management; CSX Transportation; Hillsborough County Fire Rescue and Tampa Fire Rescue; various tug companies; and port tenants, among others. The meeting was open to the public and designed to help several emergency response agencies talk through a response to a severe storm.

There was a presentation by the National Weather Service, which introduced a scenario of tropical storm conditions with heavy floodwaters and a possible tornado. The tabletop exercise discussed a simulated emergency situation. There is no fieldwork. The tabletop exercise was intended to generate and inspire feedback of hypothetical, simulated emergencies in a “no-fault” environment. Participants were encouraged to engage in conversations, challenge one another, and know it’s okay to not have an answer to every situation presented. Ultimately, the idea was to brainstorm and contribute to a safe environment, inspiring new and different solutions. Tabletops can be used to enhance general awareness, validate plans and procedures, rehearse concepts, and tighten prevention and recovery systems. Port Tampa Bay leaders used the time to solidify planning and execution of all scenarios, along with other agencies and local leaders.

Related: A hurricane during the pandemic would be bad. The economic crisis will make things worse.

The exercise ended when all actions were discussed and when the time limit was reached. Unique to this year was extended time to discuss how to deal with the aftermath of a severe storm. Participant learning was reinforced and feedback was provided through a “hot wash” at the conclusion of the exercise.

Participants were grouped according to agency or specialization and asked to comment and react as the exercise proceeded.

With hurricane season upon us, Port Tampa Bay will continue to work with outside agencies to keep operations moving productively. At the same time, the port continues to minimize risks to keep our communities running and our citizens safe.

Port Tampa Bay is honored to serve the state, our community, and most importantly, you — our neighbors. Stay safe and start your own preparations now! As a community, we are stronger together.

Paul Anderson is the president and CEO of Port Tampa Bay.

2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Protect your home, business, documents and photos

BUILD YOUR KIT: The gear you need to stay safe from the storm — and COVID-19

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

Lessons from Hurricane Michael

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind