Captain’s Corner- Focusing on What’s Important

By CAPT Bill Diehl, USCG (Ret.), P.E.

Hurricane Harvey is a month behind us. Industry is pushing towards normality and vessels are moving with just a few remaining restrictions. However, the greatest impact has been to our people, and our people are our most valuable assets. Even for those of us with little damage, we all know someone who lost everything. It isn’t easy.

My last experience with a major tropical weather event was Hurricane Ike in 2008. That experience occurred during my time as Captain of the Port here in Houston. The difference between being on the front lines and being in my house surrounded by water was stark to say the least. In many ways, it is like comparing daylight to night.

During Ike, I had complete visibility about the situation. I was constantly informed about the status of the waterways, vessels that had broken loose, people needing rescue, damage to facilities, etc., etc. I was on a helicopter surveying the damage as soon as it was safe to do so. During Harvey, I had little visibility. I had no cable, no cell signal, and I had no information. I was just another civilian doing my best to keep the water out of my house.

CAPT Kevin Oditt gave a brief recap as part of our program at our September Commerce Club. He, as many others have and will continue to do, heaped praise upon the Coast Guard, first responders, Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA, Vessel Traffic Service, the Cajun Navy, and the many amazing good Samaritans for the phenomenal hurricane and recovery response. The scenes of heroic actions throughout the days and nights of the immense hazards of Harvey were portraits of selflessness, compassion, and concern. The unnamed thousands of neighbors, citizens, volunteers, and first responders should collectively be recognized as Time Magazine’s “2017 Person of the Year”.

One comment by CAPT Oditt struck home solidly with me. It was his reiteration of the Coast Guard mission during times of crisis: save lives, get commerce flowing, and address environmental concerns. Simple and straightforward, this mission helps focus the Coast Guard and joint command on the most critical aspects of response and recovery.

The more I thought about it, I realized this had become everyone’s mission. Get your family and neighbors to safety. As soon as it was safe to leave the house, commerce was the next priority. People streamed to grocery stores to replenish home pantries and help supply shelters. Restaurants, retailers, and offices opened as soon as possible to get people back to work and help everyone manage their bottom lines. And finally, anyone tearing out sheet rock and carpet understands how vital it is to mitigate the environmental concerns as flood waters are rife with bacteria and mold seems to grow on anything instantly.

The 3-fold mission played out at the Port Bureau as we focused on the most important priorities: confirming the safety of fellow co-workers and colleagues, disbursing the Port Coordination Team information and other updates to constituents, and creating the Hurricane Harvey response resources page on our website from whatever device we could get to function. We gingerly made our way back to the office as the waters receded and roads opened to tackle what was, to us, the next logical step to help in getting port region commerce flowing: getting the maritime business community together to connect and get up-to-the-minute information. Let me just say kudos to the team here for pulling it all together.

Our business associates from around the country have been calling to express concern, and they want to know what we are doing to help everyone get back on their feet. They are eager to learn from our dramatic experiences, and there is no doubt we all have a lot to share. I tell them that at the Port Bureau and all along the Houston Ship Channel, our focus is on what’s important: our people, businesses, and environment. This is what motivates us as we continue pushing forward to overcome the storm’s impact. This is what makes us all Houston Strong.



  • Date October 25, 2017
  • Tags October 2017