FORT LEE, Va. – “Actually, we never know what to expect,” admitted Thomas Loden, installation emergency manager with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.
Continuing the thought, he said, “We have the Farmer’s Almanac prediction of a ‘frosty, flip-flop winter,’ and NOAA is projecting warmer than normal temperatures that decrease the likelihood of wide-sweeping icy conditions, but increase the potential for heavy snowfall.”
He then posed the question, “So, what’s the reasonable course of action from an emergency preparation standpoint? Historically, we have had record-breaking ice and snowstorms almost every year for the past decade, and there is no reason to believe it will be any different this season. That being the case, let’s err toward the side of caution and prepare ourselves for this peak season of cold-weather storms.”
Loden was part of the Installation Operations Center team who briefed senior leaders and department directors during the Dec. 1 Winter Weather Seminar. The purpose was to generate discussion and proactive planning so the installation isn’t caught off-guard when a storm severe enough to interrupt post operations rolls into the area.
“Another point we’re emphasizing is that it should be a consideration for anyone traveling over the holidays,” Loden further observed. “When making plans, think about where you’re heading and if winter weather could be a risk factor. If so, take steps to mitigate the hazards of icy temperatures and poor driving conditions. Team Lee safety is equally important at home and on the road.”
With a recommendation for community members to check out the wealth of information available at www.ready.gov/winter-weather-safety-social-media-toolkit, Loden said there’s a great deal to consider in the arena of winter weather preparedness – way more than what could be reasonably encapsulated in a single safety article.
“On the road, it’s things like black ice and knowing how to pull your vehicle out of a skid,” he offered. “There are items needed if you get stuck in the snow. Community members should be familiar with cold-weather injury symptoms and first aid for those. Then there are home emergencies such as what happens if you lose heat due to a power failure or the pipes freeze. A little reading and proactive preparation now could save you a huge amount of anxiety and possible injury later.”
Loden and his IOC cohorts have witnessed what happens when community members aren’t ready for winter’s punch. Individuals have found themselves stuck at home with little food because roads are impassable and grocery stores are closed. People don’t anticipate the possibility of electric outages caused by heavy ice buildup on power lines. In the wake of storms, residents get frustrated because they’re not aware of road-clearing priorities. There are risks of falls and injury because building entrances aren’t properly cleared.
The list goes on.
“Without question, the most important part of winter weather planning is being prepared to shelter in place until conditions improve,” Loden said. “In the case of winter storms we’ve witnessed within the past few years, that could mean two or more days in your home or barracks. That’s not something you can just figure out when it happens, especially if a family is involved. You have to prepare ahead of time so you aren’t caught off guard.”
The disaster preparedness website, ready.gov, recommends individuals keep the following emergency supply items on hand:
· Food and water for three days (one gallon per person, per day). Stock up on nonperishable goods that don’t require cooking.
· A good first aid kit with assorted bandages, antiseptic and burn creams. Keep in mind that emergency response crews will likely be hindered by adverse road conditions and response times could be slower.
· Flashlights with extra batteries.
· A power pack for recharging cellphones and other mobile devices.
· A battery-operated radio in the event television broadcast service is unavailable.
· Extra blankets/winter clothing for warmth in case heating systems fail.
· A fully charged, all-purpose (a-b-c type) fire extinguisher
Everyone needs an emergency plan, as well. Considerations include the following:
· The parent or guardian responsible for picking up or meeting children if schools close early.
· Your work organization’s notification procedures. Know who is considered “mission essential” and what the requirements are for those placed in that category.
· Nearby safe shelters if evacuation is necessary (think loss of heat, broken water pipes, gas leaks, etc.).
· Homeowners need to know how to shut off their water supply if pipes freeze.
· Safe procedures for snow removal from sidewalks and driveways, which of course means having the necessary equipment on hand and knowing how to properly use it.
· Vehicle safety – having equipment available and taking the time to remove snow and ice from windows; knowing how to recover from a slippery skid; and carrying an emergency kit in case of an accident, breakdown or getting stuck.
Focusing on Fort Lee’s emergency response plan – or more specifically the notification of community members if there is an early release, delay or closure because of the weather – Loden underscored the importance of registering and keeping contact information current in the “Alert!” notification system. Those enrolled receive text and/or voice notices via phone, email or government networked computer.
It is now a requirement for permanent party service members and DOD Civilians to sign up for Alert! Contactors can do so as well. Enrollment does require a Common Access Card. The registration site is alert.csd.disa.mil/AlertSplashPage. Individuals are highly encouraged to authorize personal cell or home phone notices so they are receiving updates when off-duty. If any difficulties with registration are encountered, seek assistance from your organization’s computer technician or the personnel manager assigned to most units.
The Fort Lee Facebook page is another resource for emergency response instructions and closure notices. Local television and radio stations also run post closure announcements, as provided by the IOC. Community members should make it a habit to watch local news reports during bouts of extremely cold and/or wintery weather to be forewarned of any potential dangers such as icy road conditions, drifting snow and unsafe travel areas.
A wealth of information is available on the installation’s hazardous weather webpage, home.army.mil/lee/index.php/hazweather. Subject areas covered include employee operating and release procedures, on-post recovery operations, important contact information, and more. A printable guide is available for home and worksite planning and preparation.
“If you live or work on post, it’s a good idea to review this information,” Loden recommended. “Fort Lee Policy 21-01, a link on the site, describes the priorities for snow removal during blue, green and red road conditions. It outlines the expectation for administrative building managers to have a recovery plan in place that includes clearing sidewalks and steps leading into their facility. Those individuals should be preparing for that possibility now, ensuring necessary shovels and spreadable ice-melt is available.”
The U-Do-It Center in building 6208 on the corner of Quartermaster Road and 18th Street has sand, salt and snow shovels available for sign-out to building managers with a signature card on file. A limited number of snow blowers also are available, however, training is required prior to the issue of that equipment, and it must be returned within 24 hours. For additional information, call 804-765-7988.
Summing up this lengthy compendium of information, Loden said every action associated with getting a kit, making a plan and being informed is a step in the right direction. Those who sit idly by doing nothing to prepare run the greatest risk of bringing frustration, discomfort or harm to themselves or their families.
“There is genuine concern from our post leaders,” he acknowledged. “We have new members of the community who rotated in over the summer and may not have experienced a snow or ice event. There are younger troops and families we should be looking out for. Emergency planning and preparedness in general reduces potential harm and enhances the community’s ability to recover in the shortest time possible.”