WASHINGTON -- The Army faces a growing menace -- one that has no military forces but threatens Army installations.
From the California wildfires to the hurricanes that pounded the southeast coast last fall, climate change has had an impact on operations and installations so great that the Army has identified the phenomenon as a national security threat.
To help Army posts prepare against natural disasters resulting from climate change, the Army published a new directive Friday that requires planners and managers to establish resilience measures to safeguard valuable assets and minimize readiness impacts.
Stephen Dornbos, science and technology policy fellow in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, or ASA (IE&E), said the new directive will provide Army installations with uniform instruction to help them build resilience to natural hazards.
Hazardous weather includes flooding, drought, desertification, rising sea levels, extreme heat, and thawing permafrost.
“Climate change has already had a big impact on Army installation infrastructure and threatens to degrade mission readiness. I think it’s going to continue to have an increasingly large impact going forward,” said Dornbos, who served as professor of geosciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for 15 years. “There are a lot of concerns about wildfires in California and energy supply being threatened … . There are adaptation strategies that installations could use to better prepare themselves.”
Congress has required military posts to account for climate threats in infrastructure planning and design. Under the Army directive, installation commanders must develop emergency plans for extreme weather events as well as include climate change projection analysis tool results in infrastructure plans, policies and procedures.
“This practice will enhance installation readiness and safety because it informs the installation master planning process and facility design requirements,” said Alex A. Beehler, assistant secretary of the Army for IE&E. “In the event of a climate-related event, our Army installations will be better prepared to provide the critical capabilities essential to the Army’s ability to deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars.”
The instruction will also help commanders protect Soldiers and their families from health and safety impacts such as heat related illnesses, Dornbos said. A web-based Army Climate Assessment Tool developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will give installations the ability to assess exposure to weather-related threats and project future climate impacts, Dornbos said.
The Army Climate Resistance Handbook, published last month, will also provide installation managers with a quick reference on climate and extreme weather resilience measures.
Further, the directive will have commanders tailor climate resilience measures to local threats, as well as track power and water levels. The Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9 will assist ASA (IE&E) in the evaluation and execution of the directive and in strategic direction. The Army Climate Assessment Tool will be updated with new data and climate projections over the coming years, Dornbos added.
As Army installations increasingly become targets, climate change could make posts more vulnerable to adversary attacks and threaten the service’s ability to project power, Dornbos said.
“The motivation is to protect critical assets and ensure installation mission readiness in the face of climate and extreme weather threats,” he said.
Dornbos said the effort behind the directive began about a year ago, because hazardous weather increasingly inflicted damage on installations.
“Installations need to start engineering for the future,” Dornbos said. “Designing based on historical conditions is insufficient to engineer buildings that will be serving the Army in 20 or 30 years when we will have increasingly damaging weather events, so I think the timing of this is right.”
Army posts have faced a variety of natural disasters in recent years. In September 2018, Hurricane Florence caused catastrophic flooding near the Army’s most populous post, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Flooding damaged Soldiers’ homes in nearby Fayetteville and some Soldiers had to sandbag areas of the installation.
In 2011, wildfires burned more than 11,000 acres at Fort Hood, Texas. And in 2018, wildfires adversely affected Fort Hood again, as field trainings and live-gunnery exercises had to be adjusted or canceled as flames torched some of its training grounds. The Army’s three Alaska posts also face the dangers of thawing permafrost destroying the surface integrity of the ground, potentially destabilizing infrastructure and making accessing and utilizing training areas difficult.
Editor's note: Stephen Dornbos' position is supported by the Department of Defense and Department of the Army, through an interagency agreement with the Department of Energy for the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Science & Technology Policy Fellowship Program. All of Dornbos' opinions expressed in this article are his and do not necessarily reflect the policies and views of the Army, DOD, AAAS, ORAU, or ORISE.