How Lighthouses Prepare For A Hurricane

| August 26, 2019 @ 9:30 am


Lighthouse on the shore of York, Maine (credit: United States Lighthouse Society).

Lighthouses are beautiful, a nautical symbol of land and safety; a shoreline guardian to sailors for centuries. They bring nostalgia of long days on the beach and hot summers, but these beautiful structures are consistently in the face of earth’s ferocity. It’s not always at the forefront of someone’s mind, but most lighthouses stand in the most vulnerable parts of our shorelines. Whether it be out on a thin piece of land, a thin rocky jetty or small patch of beach, they can be the first to face natural disasters that come with the sea. As we move forward in another hurricane season, it’s interesting to reflect on lighthouses and what they do to prepare for hurricanes.

Lighthouse keepers have a tremendous responsibility when preparing for disasters such as hurricanes. Depending on the probability of hurricanes in their location, they often have a well-designed disaster plan. It’s important to know that not all lighthouses have the same disaster plan. This is due to not being located in the same area and may face different elements. This shows that certain lighthouses have a higher risk than others. But they do tend to follow the same generalized protocol when preparing for disaster.

Lighthouse disaster sequence has three stages: Preparation, Response, and Recovery. In preparation for a hurricane, a lighthouse keeper will first perform a risk assessment. This is an assessment of the vulnerability of the lighthouse when facing elements of disaster that coincide with a hurricane. These elements of disaster tend to be strong winds, heavy rain, large waves and rising surf. All of which bring hazards such as flooding, broken windows, damage to building structure and so forth. The vulnerability of the lighthouse is  dependent on a few different variables such as location and hurricane strength. Some lighthouses are further inland than others and some tend to be sticking out on a thin piece of rock surrounded by water. The lighthouse on the jetty, may be more susceptible to the elements of a hurricane than a lighthouse that is further inland. A lighthouse keeper may assess a lighthouse’s vulnerability based off the hurricane strength and direction by keeping updated on the weather. Once a lighthouse keeper assesses the situation, they may prioritize based on the highest probable threat. For example, if flooding is a large hazard, they may have duplicate records and inventory elsewhere in case the originals get wet. Depending on the lead time of warnings, they may start to block open spaces that could let in flood water. Other methods of preparation such as having an emergency contact list and extra supplies, will be performed as well as assigning disaster response duties to certain staff members.

In response to a disaster, depending on the lead time of warnings, lighthouse keepers will follow protocol of their disaster plan to minimize injury and loss. With advanced notice, such as with a hurricane, lighthouse keepers will board windows and block openings where water can enter. They may also move records and inventory to keep away from possible water damage. In the case where the threat of disaster becomes an emergency, the cardinal rule for lighthouse keepers is “people first”. The first thing any lighthouse keeper will do if there is imminent danger, is to evacuate visitors and staff, then lead them to safety.

In the recovery stage of the disaster sequence, a lighthouse keeper will first attend to any injury or fatality by either calling emergency services or performing on site medical attention. Next, they will proceed to evaluate damages by touring the building and area for possible safety hazards such as downed power lines, broken glass, etc. Once it is safe, they will start the process of repairs. They may perform this by filing insurance claims, cleaning up, and removing flood water. Recovery of loss and damages will be dependent on site, building and environmental conditions. It could take anywhere from a day to weeks depending on the extremity of the damage.

As strong and sturdy as they seem, lighthouses are the most vulnerable when it comes to hurricanes. Lighthouses can be damaged or swept away by the surf. It is extremely important for a disaster plan to be in place for those who serve in a lighthouse. This way it’s ensured that loss and damages as well as injuries and fatalities may be reduced. All so that our lighthouses may continue to stand tall and guide our ships safely to shore.

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© 2019 Meteorologist Alex Maynard 

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