J. STROM THURMOND DAM, Ga. – As a notional category four hurricane bears down on southwest Georgia, residents, government agencies, and Army engineers prepare for the worst – damaging winds, flooding and electrical failures. The speculative storm strike brought U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District staff together at J. Strom Thurmond Dam, Georgia May 5, to war game the scenario, something the district does on a regular basis.
“We practice hard and work through the friction now under ‘blue skies’ so we’re proficient under the ‘grey skies,’” said Maj. Alex Duffy, Savannah District deputy commander. “I’ll quote Norman Schwarzkopf: ‘The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.’ A challenge with any disaster is figuring out how to ramp up activity as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
The war game or tabletop exercise helped various staff sections coordinate actions in the event of a hurricane impacting the Savannah District. Although the scenario was chaotic and charged (pun intended), the actual exercise was the exact opposite: orderly and calm.
“This exercise went smoothly because of the experience and expertise of our team members,” Duffy said. “Some of our senior leaders have experienced 20 to 30 [hurricane] seasons. Along with our preparation exercises, we’re currently building readiness with individual training for members of our planning and response team.”
Colorado State University released a study in December 2021 that predicted 13 to 16 named storms, six to eight hurricanes, and two to three major hurricanes to occur this year. The official Atlantic Ocean hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, with the peak threat period occurring between mid-August and October.
Even though Savannah has been fortunate to dodge storms in its history, the Corps will likely receive tasks from Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist Georgia if the state requests assistance. Savannah District operates three dams—J. Strom Thurmond, Hartwell and Richard B. Russell—which may be crucial to reducing flooding if a storm produces a lot of rainfall in the Savannah River Basin.