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JBLE recovers after Hurricane Sandy

By 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs Joint Base Langley-Eustis

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As Joint Base Langley-Eustis leadership sat together in a room, Oct. 26, listening to a U.S. Air Force captain from the weather flight discuss the details of what the media had dubbed the "Frankenstorm," the captain described what he had never seen before, the storm would take a left turn.

This phenomena, caused by multiple air masses pushing and pulling Sandy up along the Eastern seaboard and ultimately directly into New Jersey, was something not seen before and something Langley and Ft. Eustis leadership would have to contend with over the next 96 hours so they could properly prepare, assess, recover, and ultimately reset the base.

One of the few things predictable about a hurricane is its unpredictability, said Christopher Born, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron joint-base emergency manager. Leadership has to be ready to make decisions quickly, based on the information they have at the time. Those decisions safeguard the lives of the people and the security of the aircraft and facilities.

As Hurricane Sandy approached, which at the time was expected to make landfall near Langley Air Force Base and Fort Eustis sometime around 2 a.m., Oct. 29, leadership absorbed the facts and began to formulate an initial strategy, which they quickly disseminated to personnel of both bases.
"The first priority is the mission, which means assessing flight line damage and getting it back to operational status," said Born. "Afterwards, assessing damage to base facilities and correcting those damages becomes our goal."

Initially, Sandy was expected to strike JBLE with four to six inches of rain, and a possible tidal surge of five-and-a-half to six feet. As the storm collided with colder weather fronts it would drop the temperatures to roughly 40 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature, coupled with forecasted sustained winds of 52 to 63 miles per hour could drop the wind chill factor below the freezing point. All of these were factors that leadership had to consider before making the decision to reduce operations on JBLE to mission essential personnel only.

As Sandy began drenching the area with persistent rains, the immediate concern became the impending floodwaters. The expected high tide, anticipated for around 9:30 a.m. Oct. 29, fluctuated between six and seven feet, or four feet above the normal high tide. Base experts knew this tidal expectation would bring waist-high water to many parts of the base.

However, as it approached the Virginia coast, Sandy began changing its path - pushing further north. This alleviated much of the pressure that was expected for the JBLE area. However, residents weren't out of the woods yet.

Fortunately, since personnel and their families from both bases had been constantly advised on the importance of preparedness, the need for emergency responders was lessened. In addition, the lower-winds and tides led to minimal damage to the installations. Ride-out teams and cleanup crews were able to quickly assess the situation and worked tirelessly to put both Langley and Eustis back on the path of normal operations.

"Our job was to provide notification to command concerning safety and what we should expect in the way of damage reports," said Capt. Adam Morgan, 633rd Security Force Squadron operations officer.

Even with rain still falling, JBLE was secure enough to return to a normal operating status, Oct. 30. The sandbags and door dams placed prior to the storm had effectively blocked most of the flooding from reaching key areas on Langley and Eustis. While some houses on the Lighter-Than-Air region of Langley did experience some leaking from the constant rain, leadership was quick to encourage them to file a damage report with the Police Services Office, by calling their office at (757) 764-7766.

Although JBLE personnel did not feel the brunt of the storm that left severe damage in its wake through the northeastern states, the careful planning and quick decisions made when Sandy threw curveballs at Langley and Eustis did manage to significantly reduce the damage felt on both bases.
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