FORT HOOD, Texas - With dozens gathered in the Emergency Operations Center here, the garrison commander asks for a conditions check leading up the start of the Energy Resilience Readiness Exercise March 15.
It’s an early Tuesday morning, and with a nod, Col. Chad R. Foster, garrison commander, signals for the power to be shut off. The exercise which would test Fort Hood’s energy resilience in light of a power outage, has begun.
Teams from the directorates of public works and emergency services were on stand-by in anticipation of issues or concerns arising from the shutdown of electrical power. Never before has such an exercise of this magnitude been attempted, and post leaders are very interested in regards to the backup generation systems working as designed.
A Department of Defense-mandated exercise, the ERRE was designed to test military installations’ resilience in the face of a major power outage or other utility failure resulting from a major storm event, sabotage or terrorist attack on the power grid.
According to a press release announcing the test initiative, J.E. Jack Surash, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy and Environment), said “testing energy resilience by cutting commercial power to an entire segment of Army installations is an undeniable means of bringing to light the impact an unexpected power outage can have on that installation’s ability to achieve its mission.
“Current multi-domain operations require Army installations to have secure and reliable access to energy and water to achieve mission objectives,” he explained. “The Army installation objectives of maintaining world class training facilities, the ability to project power or surge the industrial base, and command and control are not achievable without secure and resilient access to energy and water.”
He went on to explain that today there exists a number of energy security vulnerabilities, both natural and man-made, associated with interdependent electric power grids, natural gas pipelines, and water resources and systems, which can jeopardize installation security and mission capabilities.
“The increased frequency and magnitude of severe storms and grid outages, as well as man-made threats, force Army installations to confront the greater risk of extended power and water disruptions,” he said.
Prior to the exercise, garrison leaders used every media available to communicate how the exercise may affect Soldiers and families who work or reside on the installation during the shutdown. Information was distributed via social media, print, television, radio and podcast alerting them what to expect and what to do should they need emergency services.
The garrison commander said that because the ERRE is a DoD-mandated exercise, the post was limited to what areas it could exempt from the exercise.
“We have to gather data. We have to accomplish the intent of the exercise that is to allow us to see our infrastructure, how it performs, what improvements need to be made,” Foster said. “If we leave too much of the installation off, then we won’t accomplish that.”
He did add, however, that there were several facilities he could identify that would be exempt, including the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport, the Carl R. Darnell Army Medical Center and the Mission Training Complex because the airport is a dual use airfield, the hospital’s associated risk involving patient care and the MTC because of its unique mission to prepare Soldiers for a major exercise or deployment.
Brian Dosa, Fort Hood’s director of Public Works, added that leaders recognize that this installation is fairly reliant on electricity.
“We know that over the past several years we’ve taken a look at Fort Hood and what its critical missions are,” he said. “What are the things that we have to do to support our nation. What things to we have to do to support what the Army’s asked us to do. What kind of things do we have to do to ensure that we take care of our Soldiers and families across Fort Hood.”
Dosa added that through these discussions, installation leaders identified a number of facilities and infrastructures that were deemed to be critical. And that in a number of those, say half of those facilities, would have backup power.
“We’re also going to find out that maybe some things should have backup systems and don’t,” he said. “So when we turn the power off, we may find out that we should have included this facility on our list of critical facilities, and we need to add this to the list of places to put backup power in the future.
“So there’s going to be some learning about backup power that’s in place, and frankly, will it be sustainable for an extended period,” Dosa said.
He added that despite having the power shut down for an extended period, he was confidant Fort Hood will “weather the storm.”
“I’m not terribly concerned,” he said. “Dominion Energy is our electric provider. We privatized our electricity and natural gas systems in 2017 with this company. They’re our privatized partner or system owners. So we’re talking with Dominion Energy about turning our power off and restoring the power. They’re going to do it in such a way to try and minimize the risk of power spikes. That’s a risk out there — that could happen — but neither of us are terribly concerned about power spikes.”
In addition, Dosa described how Fort Hood is vigilant about its use of electrical power.
“We have a system on Fort Hood called a building control system; we call it the utility monitoring and control system, or UMCS, that can remotely control the heating and air conditioning ventilation systems in many of our buildings,” he said. “We’re actually able to control and set the air conditioning or heat back in the evenings or weekends so that we’re not wasting it.”
He explained how the UMCS is going to allow evaluators to look at the building and see how it’s performing remotely.
That system, he said, also gives facility managers the ability to do something called load shutting when the electricity demand on Fort Hood is the highest primarily because of the air conditioning demand during the summer or heating demands during the winter months.
“When the Texas grid is under stress, we’re able to remotely turn it back a little bit to save electricity,” Dosa added. “We’ve done that in the past. This past summer during the July 4th and other four-day weekends, we actually took the opportunity to practice load shutting where we turned the electricity back by turning the air conditioning down.”
Those peak periods also were considered when the date for the ERRE was discussed.
“We picked March 15 because not only is it spring break so that we don’t have to figure out how we’re going to conduct school without electricity,” he said, “It’s typically a relatively mild week in terms of the temperature. It’s probably not going to be too cold or too hot that week or that particular day.”
Dosa added that the exercise will help when decisions are made to renovate some of the housing units on post.
“We do have old homes, of our 6,000 homes about two-thirds were built pre-1978,” he said. “We have one of our villages that was built in 1948 — McNair Village — and we have a few of our villages built in the 1950s. We’re in the process of doing some renovation projects to build some new buildings to update our inventory.”
He added that the post’s privatized partner for housing, Lend Lease, recently secured a multi-billion dollar loan for all of their Army projects, and of that, Fort Hood is going to get $420 million of new capital coming in to support its family housing, including construction of nearly 600 new homes in Chaffee Village.
Dosa explained that Fort Hood has a lot to learn and gain from an exercise of this magnitude and that defense leaders reached out to Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Lincoln Laboratory for assistance evaluating the installation’s response to the power shutdown.
“They are a team that has worked ERREs at other installations,” he said. “The purpose of their being here is to help us see ourselves—make observations and make recommendations to Fort Hood leaders and to Army leaders about how we can improve our posture with respect to energy resiliency.”
According to Dosa, 15 members from MIT-Lincoln Laboratory will augment 20 DPW evaluators to inspect and assess post facilities.
“We want to cover our bases, get as much as we can and make as many observations as we can,” he said. “They’ve been here a couple of times in preparation for the ERRE — to get to know us, to get to know our systems, and we’re looking forward to partnering with them.”
Christopher Lashley, technical subject matter expert with MIT-Lincoln Laboratory, said his group is mostly here to accompany the DPW team to obtain data and see if there were any issues in the field.
“We’re trying to capture the best picture we can of what’s happening,” he said.
Also part of the DPW, MIT team evaluating Fort Hood’s response were members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“We’re making sure the generators start up,” Andrew Stringer, part of the USACE contingent, said. “We’re making sure the generators are connected to what we think they’re connected to and identifying any areas that aren’t going as expected. When the main power goes off, this should come up just a couple of seconds later.”
Throughout the exercise, on-post families were provided free meals and activities to entertain their children, and Soldiers were afforded meals through field kitchens.
Sgt. 1st Class Rachel Fakeye, manager of Theodore Roosevelt Warrior Restaurant, said that her crew was up early and ready to serve Soldiers.
“They got here at 5:30 a.m. to start prepping,” she said. Her crew is pretty new and has not had experience working in a field kitchen.
“This is the first time most of them have had to be on field equipment,” she said. “It’s also a good chance to make sure everything works.”
Thus far, the Army has tested installation energy resilience by shutting off electric power to: Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Greely, Alaska; Fort Knox, Kentucky; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.