October 22, 2018
Hurricane Michael affected HII employees who live and work throughout the southeastern United States, but it was the Technical Solutions division’s Panama City Beach, Florida, site that took a direct hit from the Category 4 storm and sustained the most severe damage.
“We have 27 employees based in Panama City Beach, Florida, where we design, engineer and develop unmanned technology and do rapid prototyping, including our dual-mode undersea vehicle Proteus that you’ve heard so much about,” said Brad Mason, president of Technical Solutions’ Fleet Support group (FSG). “We are fortunate that all employees and their families have been accounted for with minimal physical injuries.”
Ross Lindman, director of operations in Panama City Beach, said he shifts between being worried about his employees and securing the facility. “We spent the first days after the storm reaching out to our employees and finding out what their situations were,” he said. “That effort was complicated by a lack of cellular and phone service. We had a team that traveled to every employee’s home to find out their condition and what they needed.”
While all employees and their families are accounted for without serious injury, some lost their homes and possessions. They are bunking with HII teammates or leaving the area to live temporarily with family members until electricity and water is restored.
HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding arrived within two days with water, generators, satellite phones and other survival essentials. Local employees immediately began repairing roofs, toppled walls and the rolling garage doors leading into the back of Technical Solutions’ machine, fabrication and composite shops.
“I can’t tell you how good that was for morale,” Lindman said. “I’m amazed at how resilient our employees are and how ready they are to get back to normal. They were honestly very prepared, yet we have a lot of rebuilding to do and appreciate all the support we are getting from HII.”
Trucks of supplies from Ingalls continued arriving in shifts over the next few days, and a caravan from Fleet Support’s Virginia Beach office was close behind with box trucks filled with more essentials, as well as three RVs so volunteers have a place to sleep.
“We needed to deliver emergency supplies and stabilize our employees’ living conditions and the Ellen Lane facility,” Gabe Watlington, Fleet Support’s team lead, said. “The FSG/Ingalls team is doing what we can and working with local contractors to assess how to progress with rebuilding.”
Technical Solutions President Andy Green said he is amazed at the response from the company. “What impresses me most is the reaction from our sister division, Ingalls Shipbuilding, who has experienced this type of devastation with Katrina and other storms,” he said. “They immediately sent two trucks with crucial supplies to Panama City. They knew exactly what was needed for disaster relief, packed up their trucks and contacted authorities so they could enter the area as soon as it was safe to do so.”
As power and water restoration may take several weeks, the relief teams from the Fleet Support group will continue to camp-out in the rented RVs. The team from Virginia Beach is committed to spending two weeks in Panama City but will stay until services are restored and employees there can get back to normal working conditions.
“We are most concerned about our employees’ losses and are grateful that everyone is OK,” Green said. “The devastation is incredible in the area, and there is much to do to get the facility secured and in working order. HII’s relief teams have been tremendous.”
Letter From Ross Lindman
Dear HII employees:
Oct. 25, 2018
On behalf of all of the employees at HII-Unmanned Maritime Systems in Panama City Beach, I would like to convey our gratitude for the incredible support provided to us by HII Corporate, HII Technical Solutions’ Fleet Support Group and Ingalls Shipbuilding. When Hurricane Michael came ashore on October 10, it was the first Category 4 hurricane to strike the Gulf Coast of the United States since 1852. It brought winds of 155 mph with gusts measured to 175 mph. It also brought a storm surge of six to nine feet in Panama City and up to 14 feet just to our east. Most employees of HII-Unmanned Maritime Systems experienced damage to their homes. Some small, some catastrophic. A few miles east or west made a big difference. As the eye of the storm moved ashore, the western side of the eyewall went directly over our facility and many of our employees’ homes. For those that live in Panama City, they received the full brunt of the storm and passed through the eye itself. Some are now coping with having to find new places to live.
When the eye moved inland, Panama City Beach, Panama City and Lynn Haven, Florida, were without power, without water, without phone or cellular service, and all of our radio and television stations were off the air. Several of the shelters set up for people to take refuge from the storm were destroyed. Our emergency services suffered the same loss of communications. Both of our hospitals suffered major damage and had to evacuate all of their patients out of the area. The night of October 10 was very dark. In Panama City, people were having to get themselves out of the rubble.
In Virginia Beach, leadership at HII Technical Solutions’ Fleet Support Group (FSG) immediately began organizing a response to aid employees in Florida. An initial situation report from Florida made it to Brad Mason, and he informed Andy Green. The report then made it to Mike Petters and the Board of Directors. The message came back to Florida: Tell us what you need. Fleet Support Group reached out to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Ingalls began organizing a relief convoy.
FSG began organizing a relief convoy in Virginia Beach. Employees from both organizations volunteered to come and help. On Friday, October 12, a security team from Ingalls arrived to help secure our damaged facility. On Saturday, October 13, a tractor trailer with supplies, a fuel truck and a bucket truck rolled in to our facility in Panama City Beach from Ingalls. On Sunday, October 14, a caravan with supplies and volunteers arrived from FSG in Virginia Beach. These convoys brought not only supplies, but hope. Hope and a message that HII was standing by its employees. Hope that things will get better.
Over the days that followed, HII employees from Panama City Beach and Virginia worked side by side to stabilize and secure our facility and the homes of employees damaged by the storm. Water, ice, food, tarps, generators, flash lights and other supplies were provided to employees in need. The damaged portions of our facility were torn down and cleaned up in preparation for reconstruction. Ingalls employees continued to bring additional supplies from Pascagoula. It was amazing to watch.
HII-Unmanned Maritime Systems is open again. We were the most heavily damaged of the Navy contractors, and, thanks to all of the support we received, the first to re-open. Even the Navy base is still closed. All employees’ home situations have been stabilized. Many are facing significant rebuild efforts, but they are safe, and they are in better living situations. Our facility has significant repair work to be done, but we are open and operable.
It is hard to put into words the gratitude that employees here have for the support provided by HII. We know that most companies would not respond the way HII, the Fleet Support Group and Ingalls Shipbuilding did. To leadership, without whose support nothing could have happened, thank you. To employees at FSG and Ingalls who volunteered and who helped organize the response, thank you. From every one of us, thank you. We have a whole new appreciation for the phrase, “Hard Stuff Done Right.”
On behalf of all UMS employees,
Director of Operations
Unmanned Maritime Systems
Fleet Support Group
HII Technical Solutions