On Aug. 19, 2008, a wave left the coast of Sudan headed east. By the time it swirled up the Gulf of Mexico three weeks later, it had built up hurricane force winds 240 miles wide. That mass plowed into Texas on Sept. 12 carrying destructive and deadly power.

The day before, the National Weather Service warned residents along the Galveston Bay shoreline that they faced "certain death" if they didn't evacuate as ordered.

Hurricane Ike has been blamed for at least 164 deaths, including 82 in the United States. As the tempest blew, more than 182,000 Texans headed for temporary shelter. The Red Cross established some 280 facilities to keep them safe and dry.

Top brass flew into survey the catastrophe. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush toured the area and visited an ad hoc Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters.

Weeks after the hurricane, The Associated Press reported a grim spectacle. The storm's 13-foot surge had pushed up approximately 200 coffins from their graves. Volunteers and state prisoners searched hundreds of miles of marshland in hopes of returning at least some of the dislocated remains to their proper places.

There were close calls. On Sept. 11, the cargo ship MV Antalina left Port Arthur, Texas, to avoid the storm, but the ship's engine failed the next day. Unable to fix the engine, the crew asked the U.S. Coast Guard to evacuate them, but the Guard determined it would've been unsafe to try. The crew of 22 rode out the storm and returned home uninjured.

Nature's helpless creatures were also impacted as the storm wiped out nesting areas for rare Kemp's Ridley turtles, washing away dunes and beaches on Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island.

And renters felt the brunt of the storm as much as anyone. The Houston Chronicle estimated that more than half of the city's 2,000 apartment buildings got hit hard, with damaged roofs and toppled walls. The damage was so extensive that the Chronicle gave a bold headline to the resumption of curbside recycling - a big step forward - more than five weeks after the storm.

There was a lot of bad news, to be sure. But it might have been worse, were it not for the timely use of communication technologies and the intervention of at least one government agency. EMSystems, PIER Systems and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), each had a role in keeping Hurricane Ike's human toll to a minimum.

NOAA: Information Central

Tim Osborn vividly recalled the days and hours preceding Hurricane Ike's arrival in the Gulf of Mexico. "Even before Ike became a tropical depression, we had identified the potential for this to start creating an actual storm system - to start rotating," said Osborn, the regional manager of NOAA's Office of Coast Survey.

In the coming days, NOAA played a critical role in managing the response to Ike. When the storm ended, the federal agency had its hands full finding and repairing navigational aids to help get maritime commerce afloat.

From the very start, the NOAA's work focused on communication - keeping emergency services up-to-date on changing conditions as the storm approached. At 10 a.m. each day, regional NOAA offices and weather service officials gathered on the phone with the NOAA Hurricane Center in Miami. Together they'd review likely five-day scenarios, while NOAA aircraft skimmed the storm to conduct weather sampling.

These conference calls, along with Web-based presentations, helped NOAA forge a consistent message that could be communicated to the entire navigation and port community. These

Adam Stone  |  Contributing Writer