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Fort Rucker team keeps people, assets safe during Hurricane Sally

Fort Rucker team keeps people, assets safe during Hurricane Sally

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When Hurricane Sally made an unwelcome visit to Fort Rucker Sept. 16, the storm found a team at the ready to minimize damage, respond to emergencies, and keep its assets and people safe.

Sally did prove an unruly guest despite extensive preparation by that team, as the storm racked up an estimated $100,000- $150,000 in damages, according to Joseph Wyka, Fort Rucker Directorate of Public Works director.

Most of that damage came in the form of water damage to facilities, including roof damage to older homes in housing, downed power lines and fallen trees, he said.

“Our recent work to secure roofs, clean storm water pipes and remove dying trees paid off, as we sustained only light to moderate damage across Fort Rucker,” Wyka said. “We did see some roofs in our older homes develop minor leaks, which unfortunately did impact those families.

“These older shingle roofs were already scheduled to be replaced in 2021, so, in addition to our immediate repairs, these homes will get complete new roofs soon. We appreciate the patience of these families.”

The post did not receive any widespread power outages because the winds were milder than predicted, he added.

“Our maintenance crews remained on the job throughout the storm,” he said. “This allowed us to quickly repair power line breaks, remove fallen trees and mitigate any small leaks that developed. As with all emergencies, we work very closely with the Directorate of Public Safety to monitor rapidly changing weather and flooding conditions.

“One example was our joint monitoring of a key bridge on Farrell Road near Lowe Army Heliport,” he said. “When the river rose rapidly, we quickly closed it to traffic and ensured we had viable detour routes in place. We always want to remind our Soldiers and families to stay out of any high water and report it – it can quickly change and be more hazardous than we might anticipate.”

DPS started preparing for Sally days in advance of the storm making landfall, including ensuring all emergency equipment was standing by and ready, said Lt. Col. Phillip Lenz, DPS director.

“We prepared the Incident Command Post for service, all four-wheel-drive vehicles were dispatched and topped off, all generators were fueled and tested, and the traffic trailer with cones, barriers and road closed signs was staged at DPS for immediate deployment in advance of the storm,” Lenz said. “Our personnel were placed on notice as mission essential and prepared to ride out the storm, if necessary.”

DPS personnel responded to all calls for service during the storm, including a single-vehicle accident off the installation near the Fort Rucker range area.

“All the preparations made prior to the storm definitely paid off – DPS had more than enough personnel and equipment to deal with any and all calls for service,” Lenz added.

“I attribute DPS’ success to my three experienced division chiefs, who know their mission, their (standard operating procedures), and know how to lead a team during surge and crisis operations.”

That success was noted by one beneficiary via the Interactive Customer Evaluation system, Lenz said. The ICE comment was submitted by a person stuck in traffic on Hatch Road after a fallen tree blocked the road.

“A very helpful Military Police Soldier was patient enough to give me directions to the other route back to Andrews Avenue. This young Soldier was soaking wet, and was extremely respectful and patiently explained to me where to go in the calmest manner – like he wasn’t in the middle of a hurricane getting soaked.”

DPS responded to numerous weather-related calls during the storm, including downed trees, blown transformers and arcing power lines, along with continuing their normal missions throughout the storm, Lenz added.

“The fire department was able to cut and remove the downed trees from the roadway quickly to keep the installation roadways open to traffic, and augmented the efforts conducted by the DPW,” he said. “The (Department of the Army security guards), the unsung heroes of the DPS, continued to perform their access control duties with professionalism while battling strong winds and sideways rain.

“While DPS was protecting people, the Aviation Center Logistics Command was taking care of aircraft, according to Col. Chad Chasteen, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chief of staff.

ACLC moved about 150 aircraft into hangars and moored almost 500 more without any damage incurred, he said.

Another key player in Fort Rucker’s response was the 18th Weather Squadron, Fort Rucker Weather Operations team, and Sally proved a tough storm to predict, according to Cindy L. Howell.

“Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores as a Category 2 storm,” she said. “Sally quickly weakened into a tropical storm by the time she moved into southeast Alabama. The most surprising thing about Sally was the lack of consistency in the computer models.

“There were great variations in both forecast track and intensity right from the beginning. That is why the National Hurricane Center continued to shift the track eastward. That made for a challenging forecast, but we ended up with a pretty good one!”

Fort Rucker Weather is constantly monitoring the tropics, “every single day – all day” Howell said. “When we see a storm that could potentially impact Fort Rucker, we begin informing leadership as early as possible to give everyone plenty of time for decisions and preparations.

“We also begin looking at forecast weather for several fly-away locations in the event that aircraft are evacuated,” she added. “We surge operations – even in a COVID environment. We prepare staff briefings to USAACE leadership and brief them as requested. As the storm gets closer, we begin issuing weather watches, warnings and advisories.

“And as the storm bears down, we are glued to radar,” Howell said. “Anytime we are on the right side of the storm, as we were in Sally, there is a risk of tornadoes. So, we monitored radar Monday night and through the day on Tuesday. Thankfully, the tornado threat did not materialize.”

Fort Rucker Weather Operations also keeps the public updated on weather via its Facebook page at https://www.facebook. com/ftruckerwx.

“Our team responded just as I would have expected: with precision and professionalism,” she said.

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