By Amy Guckeen Tolson, USAG Redstone May 7, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Thanks to the decisions of Redstone Arsenal leaders, as the storms cleared and the installation reopened April 30, every member of Team Redstone was able to return to work, alive.
Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes swept across the Southeast last week, killing two people in Limestone County, two in Lincoln County, Tennessee, and causing millions of dollars in damage in the Tennessee Valley. Prior to the storms' arrival, senior commander Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion made the decision to close the installation early April 28, upon the recommendation of Garrison commander Col. Bill Marks. The installation remained closed April 29.
"You've got to err on the side of the workforce when making these kinds of decisions. It's that simple," Marks said. "They're there for us every day. We're all stakeholders -- they're stakeholders, their families are stakeholders, and we want them all to come back safely. We are deeply saddened over the tragic loss of members of our community and our hearts go out to their families and friends. In terms of the Arsenal, we were relatively unscathed. I appreciate the cooperation in which Team Redstone operated in order to evacuate the Arsenal. At the end of the day you've got to look out for what's best for the workforce and the mission and make decisions based off of that. That's what we were able to do."
The storms may have rolled in April 28, but Garrison leaders had already been planning for them a week in advance. Daily, Installation Emergency Operations Center staff is assessing what weather may affect the installation through information received from the National Weather Service, and each Monday begins a new 7 to 10 day outlook process, which looks at the potential for severe weather for the week ahead and beyond. If forecasters issue a hazardous weather outlook that may impact Redstone Arsenal and its workforce, IEOC manager Terry Likely begins to monitor the situation closely, looking for trigger points that would require them to take further action.
In the case of a tornado event, those trigger points include a tornado watch or warning, school closures and road conditions from the Alabama Department of Transportation.
"We want to look at all the major roads both on post and off post," said Tim D'Ambrosio, chief of the Garrison's Plans and Operations Division. "That's going to factor in whether we think we can bring folks in in a safe manner. I don't want to bring that footprint in if the roads haven't been cleared."
In the case of last week's severe weather outbreak, schools began to notify parents Sunday that they would be dismissing early Monday. Those decisions started the ball rolling for Alvin Odoms, director of the Garrison's Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security Directorate, D'Ambrosio and the Garrison Crisis Response Management Team, comprised of staff members from the directorates of Emergency Services, Public Works, Public Affairs, Human Resources and Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation, who work together to provide guidance to Marks in how the Arsenal should respond to severe weather.
After meeting Monday morning to discuss the two options available -- liberal leave or early closure -- the decision was made for early closure, which ensured the safety of all personnel, including contractors.
"Some contracts are set up throughout the installation where folks get paid whether they're here or not. Some don't. So if they're here and we do liberal leave, some of them may still have to come to work," D'Ambrosio said. "Closure means all contractors can go home. It's a way of guaranteeing life safety."
Upon looking at the April 28 forecast, which predicted a high likelihood for tornadoes beginning at 3 p.m. Monday, the answer for what needed to be done to protect the workforce was clear to Marks.
"This particular storm system was well-defined, similar to the ones we saw three years ago," Marks said. "Everybody knew the first wave had the potential to be bad. We made our recommendations based on not necessarily the worst case scenario, but just about the worst case scenario. We allowed time to get the workforce out of here through curtailment operations, which gave them the chance to get their children, collect some emergency supplies and go home."
With the early closure came the decision that the installation would open no earlier than noon the following day, Tuesday, in case any debris cleanup would be needed following the storms. With the forecast indicating that a second round of severe storms was possible beginning at 2 p.m. Tuesday, the decision was made to keep the Arsenal closed, rather than bringing employees in just to send them home again, possibly in the midst of severe weather.
"It didn't make sense," Marks said.
In actuality, the severe weather didn't arrive until much later in the evening Tuesday, highlighting the challenge constantly presented to Arsenal leaders when it comes to deciding how to respond to the weather -- there is no guarantee when or where severe weather may occur.
"Weather is not exact," D'Ambrosio said. "All I can give you is the latest 24 hour weather forecast notification, and based off of that 24 hour weather notification, here's what the National Weather Service is forecasting, and here's what I recommend. Why do you think meteorologists use words like, 'probably, potentially, maybe'? They can't give you the exact time. They're not controlling the clouds and the systems, all they're doing is watching and saying, 'Our models show this.'"
What Arsenal leaders can guarantee, however, is their commitment to the safety and security of the workforce. Despite the unpredictability of the weather, Marks and company strive to provide members of Team Redstone some predictability with their decision making.
"You don't know what you don't know," Marks said. "Any decision that you make here in Garrison, where it's going to affect 37,000 folks plus the community, is never made off the cuff. You try to gather as much information from as many different sources as possible. You plan with the welfare of the workforce in your mind. What we try to provide is predictability. The farther out you can provide the workforce with a decision so they can plan the rest of their day is helpful."