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NEWS | Nov. 16, 2016

JBLE prepared for sea level rise

By Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

One hundred years ago the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics identified the coastal area that is now Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia as ideal for conducting NACA, U.S. Army and U.S. Navy missions.

Despite challenges caused by the sea level rise, the base’s location on the Chesapeake Bay remains an ideal location for conducting over-water flying missions.

According to Lt. Col. Kevin Osborne, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron commander,  Langley AFB, which is the Air Force’s oldest continuously active base, currently lies just a few feet above sea level and therefore is susceptible to flooding during major storms including hurricanes. To combat the rise in water levels, the installation has put several resiliency efforts in place. The efforts work to bring the base back to operational status on a three-prong system of prevention and mitigation, preparation and recovery.

Since Hurricane Isabel in 2003, the three-prong system has enabled mission readiness within hours, as opposed to days.

“Isabel provided our biggest opportunity to make engineering and process changes from lessons learned,” said Osborne. “We’ve been learning to deal with flood events in a much more efficient and resilient manner since then.”

Prevention and mitigation efforts implemented over the last 20 years include:

·         Shoreline Stabilization

The shoreline stabilization includes a 10 kilometer rip rap sea wall that brings the base’s shore 5.4 feet above sea level. The stabilization also consists of a living shoreline of sea grass that filters sediment and provides a natural habitat for sea life.

·         Master Planning

Master planning involves construction updates that make the installation less susceptible to flood damage. Current implementations include building and renovating 10 feet above the mean sea level, consolidating or demolishing flood prone facilities and relocating or raising critical infrastructure.

Preparation efforts include:

·         Hurricane preparation exercises

·         Unit specific checklists

·         Liaising with local emergency management and first responders

·         Utilizing a flood mapping prediction tool that measures 18,000 elevation points base-wide

·         Protecting infrastructure by sealing electrical nodes and isolating airfield lighting

·         Flood barrier program

The flood barrier program includes installing door dams that prevent the flow of water into buildings that are not yet 10 feet above sea level. This effort also includes lining up to 50,000 sandbags throughout the installation.

Recovery efforts

The installation’s recovery system is a groundwater pumping station that displaces 7.4 million gallons of water per hour.

Since the implementation of the resiliency plan, the installation has changed from a maximum of $166,000,000 in damages to $40,000. The recovery time also changed from one week to one day.

While efforts have improved the installations readiness, the 633rd CES team knows that flooding is inevitable, but with proper planning and implementation of lessons learned, the base can operate for another 100 years.

“In addition to the long-term threat of SLR we must also be resilient against various weather phenomena that can rapidly create high water such as local nor’easters, regional hurricanes and tidal extremes,” said Osborne. “Our consistent resilience against short notice flooding will also help us counter the longer-term threat of SLR.”