Still dam­aged from 2018 hur­ri­canes, mil­i­tary bases brace for more

The Sun News - - Front Page - BY TARA COPP [email protected]­clatchydc.com

More than 150 mem­bers of the North Carolina Na­tional Guard gath­ered in Raleigh this month, with the dam­age from Hur­ri­cane Florence in 2018 still on their minds.

On a 40-foot map of the state, they be­gan mov­ing North Carolina’s guard units around like chess pieces, to set the or­der of bat­tle for the next ma­jor storm.

“We go through the timetable of a ma­jor hur­ri­cane hit­ting,” said North Carolina Na­tional Guard spokesman Army Lt. Col. Matt DeVivo. The units looked at pre­pared­ness five days out. Then two days out. Then land­fall, to see “what will be mo­bi­lized, what we lack in ca­pa­bil­ity” and what worked last time, he said.

Last year’s hur­ri­canes were par­tic­u­larly de­struc­tive for some of the mil­i­tary’s most crit­i­cal bases. In re­sponse, ac­tive, re­serve and Na­tional Guard forces have looked at lessons learned to bet­ter pre­pare for this year’s hur­ri­cane sea­son, which starts June 1, even as they wait for fed­eral fund­ing to fix all the dam­age from last year.

As part of its re­view, the North Carolina Na­tional Guard also looked for ca­pa­bil­ity gaps. This year there is an ob­vi­ous one. Al­most one-third of North Carolina’s 12,000-strong Na­tional Guard will not be on hand to re­spond to a storm be­cause a ma­jor com­po­nent, the 30th Ar­mored Bri­gade Com­bat Team, is on standby to de­ploy over­seas. In­stead, North Carolina has set agree­ments with other states to fill in guard per­son­nel if needed, DeVivo said.

North Carolina units that par­tic­i­pated in the May ex­er­cise were Char­lotte-based 145th Air Na­tional Guard and 130th Ma­neu­ver En­hance­ment Bri­gade; Greens­boro-based 113th Sus­tain­ment Bri­gade; Fayet­teville’s 139th Re­gional Train­ing Bri­gade; and Raleigh’s 60th Troop Com­mand and 449th Avi­a­tion Bri­gade.

In Florida, last year’s Cat­e­gory 5 Hur­ri­cane Michael di­rectly hit Tyn­dall Air Force Base, dam­ag­ing more than 700 build­ings and forc­ing the re­lo­ca­tion of 11,000 per­son­nel and 46 air­craft. Re­build­ing ef­forts are es­ti­mated to cost more than $4.7 bil­lion.

At Tyn­dall, many build­ings re­main as dam­aged as they were af­ter last year’s storm, and any new re­pairs ceased as of May 1 due to bud­get dis­agree­ments be­tween the White House and Congress. Be­fore funds ran out, the Air Force had pri­or­i­tized ad­dress­ing “mold re­moval, tem­po­rary roofs, re­plac­ing HVAC sys­tems and other life, health, and safety is­sues” at crit­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties.

It also has tried to for­tify those re­pairs so the build­ings can weather this year’s storm sea­son and last through base re­con­struc­tion, which is ex­pected to take be­tween three to five years.

The Air Force has also looked closely at lessons learned.

Shortly af­ter Hur­ri­cane Michael struck last Oc­to­ber, then-Air Force Sec­re­tary Heather Wil­son di­rected a re­view of “how the Air Force is pos­tured to mit­i­gate the risks of se­vere weather events,” said Air Force spokesman Robert Leese. The re­view was com­pleted in early 2019 and re­sulted in ap­prox­i­mately 130 rec­om­men­da­tions, he said.

Tyn­dall houses a ma­jor com­po­nent of home­land de­fense, the 601st Air Op­er­a­tions Cen­ter, which runs air and space re­sponses for the North Amer­i­can Aero­space De­fense Com­mand (NORAD) in case of an at­tack.

Hur­ri­cane Michael knocked out most com­mu­ni­ca­tions and cre­ated a cell phone dead zone around the base which prompted the 601st Air Op­er­a­tions Cen­ter to tem­po­rar­ily re­lo­cate to Lan­g­ley Air Force Base in Vir­ginia.

As a re­sult, the Air Force is now look­ing at re­quir­ing more ro­bust fa­cil­ity con­struc­tion in storm-prone ar­eas, im­prov­ing its weather fore­cast­ing and tweak­ing com­mand and con­trol re­la­tion­ships, to en­sure con­ti­nu­ity of com­mand in a fu­ture storm.

Hur­ri­cane Florence dropped 36 inches of rain on three crit­i­cal Ma­rine Corps in­stal­la­tions in North Carolina: Camp Le­je­une, Ma­rine Corps Air Sta­tion New River, and Ma­rine Corps Air Sta­tion Cherry Point. Hun­dreds of build­ings re­main dam­aged.

“Hur­ri­cane Florence has ac­cel­er­ated things so that we are bet­ter pre­pared to han­dle the next hur­ri­cane, when it comes,” said Nat Fahy, spokesman for Ma­rine Corps In­stal­la­tions East.

At Camp Le­je­une, 134 build­ings have been con­demned be­cause they were too badly dam­aged for it to make eco­nomic sense to re­pair them, Fahy said.

The most se­verely af­fected on base were the old­est build­ings with shin­gled roofs. Over the win­ter and spring, the Marines have pri­or­i­tized putting metal roofs on the sal­vage­able build­ings in ad­vance of this year’s storm sea­son. And all fu­ture con­struc­tion will take into con­sid­er­a­tion the force with which Hur­ri­cane Florence struck the area.

“We in­tend to make sure that all build­ings in the fu­ture have metal roofs on them,” Fahy said. Cur­rent struc­tures are be­ing made “much more weather tight” with items such as win­dow seals and va­por bar­ri­ers.

Prepa­ra­tion for this sea­son is also about mes­sag­ing. “Ev­ery time we ap­proach hur­ri­cane sea­son, we get very ag­gres­sive about putting out mes­sages to mem­bers of our com­mu­nity to start putting to­gether a hur­ri­cane kit, start con­sid­er­ing what their evac­u­a­tion plan might be,” Fahy said.

“We have a lot of young fam­i­lies that come here that have never been ex­posed to East weather in east­ern North Carolina. So it’s in­cum­bent upon us to ed­u­cate them early and of­ten about how to pre­pare for a hur­ri­cane.”

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