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NEWS | July 31, 2023

633d CES taking resiliency to a new level

By Airman 1st Class Mikaela Smith 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

In 2003, Hurricane Isabel flooded Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia as a Category 1 storm, causing a 7.9-foot storm surge, flooding the base for four days, catching the attention of many civil engineers.

One of those engineers was Robert Barrett, 633d Civil Engineer Squadron chief of the engineer flight.

“The definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing and expect different results; we were not going to do that,” said Barrett. “After Hurricane Isabel, our Civil Engineers realized we needed to make some changes, and our journey of climate and installation resiliency began.”

The installation began to raise the elevation of new facilities, place riprap rock along the shoreline to prevent waves from crashing onto the base, move mechanical systems and other equipment out of basements and install door dams among other infrastructure. These changes are designed to protect Airmen and help ensure the mission can continue.

“It’s been nearly 20 years since Hurricane Isabel hit our base,” said Barrett. “We’ve made great improvement, but more needs to be done.”

According to Barrett and Anhthu Nguyen, 633d CES project engineer, as of 2020, predictive modeling has identified sea level rise as the most persistent and challenging impact for the installation forecasted through 2030. They also mentioned, second only to New Orleans, Hampton Roads, is the largest population center at risk from its potential to experience impacts from flooding.

 With these concerns at the forefront, Barrett developed a Sea Level Rise Working Group that meets monthly to discuss progress on current projects and coordinate future efforts related to installation and climate resiliency. The working group consists of engineers, environmental scientists and other interested parties, who brainstorm ways to continue the JBLE mission and preserve the infrastructure on base.

“Our group looks at the different ways of how we can deal with these issues through various projects that we have programmed or through best management practices,” said Nguyen. “In addition to this, the 633d CES works closely with the City of Hampton. They are very supportive of us protecting our installation and we are very thankful.”

Airfield drainage, strategic plantings, repair of base-wide storm sewer outfalls: these are just a few of the resiliency goals the 633d CES is working towards.

“Funding is one of our biggest challenges,” said Barrett. “We have an amazing team of engineers who work hard and put a lot of brain power behind these projects that further our mission capabilities. Investing on the front end is critical in order to avoid cost on the back end.”

Nguyen and Barrett also noted from 2003 to 2011, JBLE-Langley has experienced three storms with storm surge leading to tidal levels at 7.4 feet. In addition to this fact, Nguyen and Barrett explained how the Langley’s relative sea level rise of 1.45 feet over the past 100 years is considered one of the world’s largest documented changes. These combined, makes for a unique set of challenges the 633d CES resiliency team faces.

Thankfully, according to Dawn Young, 633d CES chief of portfolio optimization, infrastructure improvements made since 2003 have reduced typical storm damage costs since 2011 to less than 1% of what Isabel cost and airfield closure time by 75% despite storm surges close to that of Isabel’s benchmark.

“Resiliency is a part of national defense,” said Nguyen. “JBLE is in a very strategic location. Without installation resiliency, the support and defense we provide wouldn’t happen. We’d be underwater.”

Barrett explained that installation and climate resiliency are critical, not only to the upkeep of JBLE, but to the broader Air Force mission.

“Without resiliency, how are you going to weather the storm?” asked Barrett. “We still need to be able to launch and recover aircraft no matter what challenges we face. It’s not just the joint base we are responsible for, but the well-being of our surrounding communities. Resiliency is the name of our program and all the projects within, but true resiliency comes from our Airmen and the family members who support us and allow us to get the mission done.”