Rapid response minimizes winter storm damage at Wright-Patt

  • Published
  • By Brian Dietrick
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Like most of Ohio, last month’s winter storm wreaked havoc on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base infrastructure. The frigid cold and high wind gusts over multiple days caused nearly $4 million in damage across both areas of the installation.

If it wasn’t for the 88th Civil Engineer Squadron’s preparatory actions and rapid response to mitigate damage, that dollar amount could’ve doubled or even tripled.

“We started getting notifications of incoming weather from the base meteorologist,” said Daniel Jessup, 88 CES deputy. “Those notifications started the preparatory actions for our team and facilities.”

With temperatures scheduled to be at or below freezing for multiple days, officials knew freezing and bursting pipes could be an issue.

The squadron’s infrastructure team immediately checked buildings scheduled for renovation to ensure all the water was out of their systems. It also canceled routine nightly setbacks on thermostats base-wide.

“Each night, we set back our controls to conserve energy,” said Mick Dent, 88 CES Infrastructure Branch chief. “In times of extreme cold, we let the system run 24 hours to maintain a proper temperature. We also ensured there were no openings to the outside air and all dampers were closed to the minimum position.”

The storm dumped more than three inches of snow on WPAFB and had extreme changes in weather, according to Jim Lane, senior operational meteorologist.

“This winter storm resulted in the fastest six hour temperature drop (39 degrees) and fastest 12-hour drop (52 degrees) since records began in 1947,” said Lane.

Even with proper planning, 88 CES anticipated emergency calls and damage because the temperatures and winds were so extreme.

The first came in the morning of Dec. 23. The boiler at Visiting Officer Quarters became inoperable and required an immediate response so the tenants and five associated buildings didn’t freeze. They had to drain the water systems and evacuate the buildings for multiple days.

That seemed to open the floodgates and calls started pouring in. The squadron’s 24-hour control facility that receives maintenance-related emergencies fielded hundreds of emergency calls concerning 39 different buildings over Christmas weekend. The majority stemmed from freezing pipes but also included a light pole that had been blown over from the strong wind gusts.

This uptick in emergencies required additional personnel in order to prevent further damage.

“Nearly half of the squadron was running full time during the Christmas weekend going all over both areas of the base to fix the damage,” Jessup said. “Instead of spending Christmas with their families, our folks were out there doing the dirty work. Our team’s preparation and speedy response times likely saved the installation tens of millions of dollars.”

Once an emergency is mitigated, there are follow-on responses. Don Fosnight, 88 CES Operations and Engineering Branch chief, said cleanup is a top concern.

“Water cleanup is priority so we don’t have any follow-on issues due to mold. The quicker we get in and clean up the water, the better off we are,” he said. “Then, once the root-cause analysis and damage assessments are done, we move to the complete recovery phase and start procurement actions.”

Outside of mitigating and preventing damage, the squadron also needed to ensure all driving surfaces were clear and operable, including the flightline.

Base officials said the 88 CES snow team had installation roads in much better conditions than what drivers were experiencing outside the gate on highways and byways.

“Our snow team is so good and efficient that, even in snowy, subzero temperatures with high wind, they were able to clear the airfield for an aircraft to land,” Jessup said. “Even at the height of the storm, they ensured it stayed open and operable because it is a mission-critical asset.”

Even at the height of the storm, they ensured it stayed open and operable because it is a mission-critical asset
Daniel Jessup, 88 CES deputy

Ron Lee, 88 CES civilian leader, described his team as “true professionals taking care of business.”

“I am amazed at the response of our plumbing, controls and HVAC teams,” he said. “They were able to get water shut down and minimize damage to facilities just as fast as the calls were coming in. They were all over it! They had to work over Christmas weekend and there wasn’t a single complaint or gripe. They make it look easy.”