Each year about 30 typhoons form in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean and between six and ten will strike the coastline on average according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. While most strike Okinawa Prefecture, the island of Kyushu, or the island of Shikoku, all regions of Japan are susceptible. This is especially true for the five U.S. Navy installations in Japan that house tens of thousands of Navy personnel and millions of dollars of equipment. Preparations for typhoon season begin months in advance and continue right up until the arrival of a storm.
“CFAY (Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka) conducted tropical cyclone conditions of readiness exercises prior to the start of typhoon season as well as ‘what if’ scenarios for various storms that have been active in the Pacific this year,” said Capt. Rich Jarrett, CFAY’s commanding officer. “We approach every typhoon season with the expectation that we will be faced with the challenges of at least one severe weather event.”
The first test of these preparations came with Typhoon Faxai. On Sept. 9 that storm hit the Kanto Plain area and was to blame for three deaths, 40 injuries, left 17,000 people stranded at Tokyo airports and millions of dollars in damage to homes, buildings and infrastructure. Less than a month later, Typhoon Hagibis would threaten the same region of Japan but with the potential for damage not seen in decades. In only 18 hours, Hagibis intensified from a tropical storm with winds of 60 mph to a super typhoon with sustained winds in excess of 160 mph.
Hagibis ravaged Japan on the weekend of October 12-13, leaving 80 people dead and flooding more than 50,000 homes. River dikes in seven prefectures burst when the storm dumped as much as 40 percent of the yearly rainfall in only two days. In the storm’s aftermath, more than 4,000 people are still residing in evacuation shelters due to the damage.
“In the past five weeks alone, Typhoon Faxai made a direct impact on Yokosuka, and Typhoon Hagabis presented challenges for both Yokosuka and Atsugi.” said Rear Adm. Brian Fort, Commander, Naval Forces Japan and Navy Region Japan. “Every base, every tenant, every family and every sailor takes each of these events seriously and thoroughly prepares.”
Preparation helped mitigate the damage to Navy facilities and the risks faced by the base populations.
“We were fortunate to have had no injuries and only relatively minor damage,” said Fort. “After the cleanup, we always pause to critique our performance to see what we can do better to prepare for the next one.”
The lessons learned in the storms this year have helped improve the preparations for the remainder of typhoon season. CFAY implemented improvements learned from Faxai to better prepare for the arrival of Hagibis.
“Typhoon Faxai showed us where the base was most at risk to storm damage, which in turn, helped focus our preparation efforts for Hagibis,” said Cmdr. Ben Waite, CFAY’s public works officer. “The PWD (public works department) focused on minimizing damage through construction site preparation, response crew manning and cleanup of any vulnerable areas remaining from Typhoon Faxai.”
While CFAY’s Public Works Department worked to prepare the facilities for the storm, CFAY’s port operations sailors worked to ensure the safety of Commander, Seventh Fleet’s ships.
“We sent several ships out to sea, including allied partners, and diverted incoming ships to areas away from Yokosuka and the storm’s path,” said Cmdr. Anthony Matos, CFAY’s port operations officer.
Matos’ crew of more than 50 sailors and approximately 50 Japanese civilian workers installed storm brows, repositioned shore power cables and removed items off of the piers in preparations for typhoon strength winds. Their work helped optimize and preserve the harbor’s infrastructure.
At Naval Air Facility Atsugi (NAFA), 25 miles away from CFAY, the PWD strived to achieve early levels of readiness for Hagibis which helped minimize the damaged received from the powerful winds and heavy rain. During planning meetings, NAFA embarked on several preemptive measures such as prestaging equipment for recovery and scouring the base of debris that could become missile hazards or clog storm drains.
“As a result of all the Typhoon 20W (Hagibis) preparation measures (street sweeping, contractor job site inspections, and manning levels) the amount of damage experienced by the installation from Typhoon 20W were relatively minimal,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sonny Rowland, NAFA public works officer. “The Typhoon Preparation and Strike Meetings ensured that everyone involved had a clear understanding of what was expected of them and how the Public Works Department was going to operate during and respond after the typhoon past.”