On September 19, 2022, soon-to-be Hurricane Ian formed as a tropical disturbance several hundred miles east of the Windward Islands in the south Caribbean. It would rapidly strengthen into a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane before it slammed into Florida, making its landfall south of Punta Gorda on September 28, and bringing with it 15 feet of storm surge and over 20 inches of rain. Hurricane Ian caused widespread flooding of homes, washed out critical bridges and roads, and created thousands of pollution threats by scattering and destroying vessels across the southeast Gulf Coast.
OR&R’s involvement in responding to Hurricane Ian began well before the storm made landfall in South Florida, as the NOAA Southeast Scientific Support Coordinator (SSC) for the Southeast began coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), National Marine Sanctuaries, and the state of Florida to ensure response plans and coordination were in place in preparation for the storm. As the storm made landfall and the USCG had primary focus on search and rescue (SAR) operations, OR&R personnel had finished their preparation to support the USCG response to pollution and debris cases. They established the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®) as the common operational picture, which was used to pre-label and overlay the pollution assessment grids for Florida, along with the identification of potential pollution risk sites, and high priority resources and sensitive areas, to help prioritize field assessments.
On October 3, once the storm had cleared and SAR operations were complete, NOAA received a mission assignment from FEMA for pollution and debris target identification from aerial imagery, and data management and use of ERMA in support of the USCG response to the hurricane. By October 6, NOAA personnel on-scene included the Southeast SSC, two data managers, and one spatial data branch responder, and began data management of over 7,500 pollution and debris targets that were identified by satellite imagery. Apart from target identification and data management, OR&R personnel developed best management practices and job aids for evaluating and removing targets in sensitive mangrove habitats.