FORT POLK, La. — In a state that rarely sees freezing temperatures, the recent winter storm (Elliott) that dipped down south to blanket Louisiana in frigid weather was challenging. The unusual winter forecast left the state and Fort Polk residents scrambling to protect pipes, plants and themselves from the icy blast that took place in Louisiana over the long Christmas weekend Dec. 22-26.
Freeze warnings were an especially difficult challenge due to many residents being away during the holiday leaving many homes unoccupied.
No Families or Soldiers were displaced due to the winter weather, thanks to the installation’s ability to answer 146 housing service calls concerning no heat or water line breaks (interior and exterior) and 283 demand maintenance orders from barracks and other facilities. All emergencies were alleviated and repairs from water damage are underway.
The efforts to prepare before the storm were important to keeping the Fort Polk community safe.
Master Sgt. Nicholas W. Cage, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security operations sergeant, was part of a response team within the Warrior Operations Center.
“As soon as we received weather forecasts and warnings from the National Weather Service and our own 18th Weather Squadron, DPTMS immediately established a modified crisis response team including members from Directorate of Public Works, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Directorate of Emergency Services and the Public Affairs Office to begin preparing the installation for the hard freeze. We began messaging the community about how to take precautions to mitigate bursting pipes. DPW immediately started preparing by winterizing facilities and barracks. They also established on-call response teams to action emergency work orders. DPTMS synchronized all efforts and continued to update with our posture and response capabilities,” Cage said.
Once the weather hit, the majority of employees, Soldiers and Families were out of town for the holidays.
“This caused a delay in finding and responding to burst pipes,” Cage said.
DES received 54 calls for service regarding damaged/frozen pipes or water leaks during the inclement winter weather event. Police and fire units were dispatched to assess the scene at unoccupied houses, and fire personnel gained access to secured facilities to resolve emergencies.
Howard Smith, DES deputy chief of police, said dispatch aided callers in distress and assisted by submitting work orders to repair the damages, and police units remained on scene and provided security until work orders could be completed.
“Constant communication between Pride Industries (maintenance contractor), DPW and Corvias (privatized housing) was maintained for the duration of the severe weather period. DES would like to thank all the Soldiers, Family members and civilians affected for their patience while assets swiftly responded to the numerous calls,” Smith said.
Betty Beinkemper, Army Housing Office chief, praised the efforts of Fort Polk’s housing team.
“Our partner, Corvias Army Housing, and the Army Housing Office performed outstanding during Winter Storm Elliott. They had open communication to our residents, door-to-door visits for storm related issues, and the Corvias maintenance crew worked nonstop during the four-day event,” Beinkemper said.
The temperatures during the winter weather event dipped as low as 13 degrees, with sustained temperatures below freezing spanning multiple days.
Nathan G. Jernigan, DPW director, said DPW’s Army Housing Office and Operations and Maintenance Division, including Fort Polk’s contracted partners Corvias, American Water and Pride Industries, worked tirelessly through the event to mitigate and remediate emergencies.
“These team members spent countless hours, in freezing conditions, postponing or rearranging their Holiday plans, to ensure that Fort Polk’s Soldiers, Families and facilities were taken care of,” Jernigan said.
The recovery effort is ongoing and there’s still a lot of work to be done. Teams have transitioned from emergency response to remediation efforts within Army Family Housing and garrison facilities. Corvias, along with their contracted effort with ServPro, continue assessment and repairs of water damaged homes.
The DPW Operations and Maintenance Division and Environmental Division remain fully engaged in assessment and remediation of water intrusion within garrison facilities.
“As assessments are complete, permanent repairs will be scheduled with facility occupants,” Jernigan said. “The synchronization and actions of garrison directorates and DPW divisions were the key factors that minimized the impacts across garrison facilities and housing portfolios.”
Though most of the emergency work orders from housing and barracks are actioned and completed, the team is prepared to receive an increased impact of emergency work orders as occupants return to buildings, residences and barracks rooms from holiday travel.
“DPW leads the way on recovery and their efforts are an example of what it takes to put people first,” Cage said. “Fort Polk has experienced numerous extreme weather events and our ability to prepare, respond and recover is tremendous. Taking care of our people and maintaining essential operations is what we do best,” Cage said.
Based on lessons learned from Winter Storm Uri in 2021, efforts were reviewed and helped fine-tune preparations and reporting processes for this winter weather event.
“We’ll continue refining our processes from lessons learned through this event to even better posture the teams in future weather events,” Jernigan said.
Col. Sam Smith, Fort Polk garrison commander, plans to integrate impacted areas into the garrison’s already robust program of housing town halls for residences and barracks inspections.
“The installation team has done a great job mitigating the impacts of subfreezing temperatures. The collective cooperation and coordination from our residents, the Public Affairs Office, DPW, DES, housing partner Corvias and unit leadership were instrumental in responding and helping in the winter storm response,” Smith said. “The teams across the garrison directorates remain heavily engaged in the recovery efforts associated with the winter weather event.”