By Michael Norris
Pentagram Assistant Editor
In the end, despite the build-up, Hurricane Sandy had only minimal impact on Joint Base Myer-Henderson, with approximately 17 downed trees, several flooded basements, damaged vehicles, loosened traffic signs and buildings buffeted by high winds and flying debris this week.
Most of the Washington, D.C., area had battened down in preparation for the storm during a two-day federal government shutdown Oct. 29 and 30. But through it all, a core group of JBM-HH employees remained on base to prepare for contingencies and wait out the course of the hurricane.
A team of officials from the base’s Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, the Directorate of Public Works, the Directorate of Emergency Services and the the joint base command group set up a 24-hour emergency operations center in the basement of JBM-HH Command Headquarters, Bldg. 59, to track the hurricane and respond to storm-related issues. The center opened Oct. 29 at 4 a.m. and shut down Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m.
In a conference call with the Military District of Washington inside the EOC Oct. 30, JBM-HH Commander Col. Fern O. Sumpter provided updates on the situation at JBM-HH while other installations in the major command weighed in. Fort Hamilton reported having to temporarily evacuate eight Families because of flooding there and Fort Belvoir temporarily lost electricity.
Reporting damage to the Old Post Chapel awning at one meeting, Sumpter described how the wind had shredded the awning’s covering, leaving bare-bones metal supports exposed.
“It’s ugly, but it’s functional,” explained the colonel, noting that no funerals were being held as yet in Arlington National Cemetery.
Most activities were shut down while the base was officially closed, although the shoppette and gas station reopened Tuesday afternoon to help provide sustenance to residents on post.
Russell Miller, chief of the JBM-HH Fire Department, said the department responded to flooding along Hospital Lane on the Fort Myer portion of JBM-HH by sucking up excess water with hoses and emptying it elsewhere.
Working with chain saws, cherry pickers and loading trucks, several shifts of DPW workers had most of JBM-HH cleaned up by the time employees returned to base the morning of Oct. 31.
Assessing the damage on base, JBM-HH Director of Public Works Ron Kaczmarek said it mostly involved fallen trees, traffic signs, leaking basements and roofs – more cosmetic than structural damage. He said DPW began making preparations for the storm many days in advance.
“We fared better than what I expected,” Kaczmaek said. ”Being prepared is half the battle.”
Robbie Clark concurred. “The storm wasn’t as big as it could have been, but you’ve got to prepare for the worst,” said the DPTMS chief of operations. “The big thing is we didn’t lose electricity.”
In a partnership which dates to the June 29 derecho, the utility Virginia Dominion Power used JBM-HH as a staging area to restore electrical power to customers in Northern Virginia. While the base didn’t lose power this time around, the utility – which has been upgrading and managing the base electricity grid for the past several years – was instrumental in getting power restored to the installation in the aftermath of the last storm.
“Dominion helped us in June and brought back power [to the installation],” said Enoch Godbolt, DPTMS director. “That’s why they’re back. It was a lesson-learned.”