PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (Jan. 27, 2023) — As U.S. Army Garrison Presidio of Monterey officials prepared for a full-scale emergency exercise scheduled for Jan. 26, a real emergency situation emerged in the form of nine “atmospheric river” weather events in three weeks.
The weather from Dec. 26 to Jan. 17 brought rain and heavy winds that not only caused leaders to activate the post’s Emergency Operations Center, but led them to prepare shelters, evacuate 18 service members, dependents and civilians who live off post, and keep dining facilities open late after barracks lost power. Leaders also stayed on top of emerging threats such as falling trees, frequent power outages, and at one point, limiting base access due to projected flooding of the two main roads servicing the Monterey Peninsula. Although the flood waters came close, and essentially would have made the peninsula an island, the highway closures didn’t happen.
Col. Sam Kline, USAG PoM commander, said he is proud of how the garrison team and stakeholders, such as local military organizations and municipalities, came together during the storms to ensure life, health and safety of our service members and families while keeping the mission going.
“As the threat increased, our protection capacity to address our tenant needs increased,” Kline said. “It helped that we were preparing for the full-scale exercise, and we were well-suited to take on challenges the storms presented.”
USAG PoM has an intergovernmental service agreement with the City of Monterey for on-post maintenance, and the agreement proved important for base operations, Kline said. For example, the rainfall made trees unstable due to their shallow root systems and the saturated ground, and the trees became prone to falling. The garrison worked closely with the garrison emergency services and the City of Monterey to provide warnings and remove debris as quickly as possible.
In the end, the total damage cost an estimated $396,000, but there was no loss of life or limb, and the garrison is solidly in the recovery phase.
Kline said frequent and coordinated communication on all levels — with Maj. Gen. Tony Hale, senior commander of the Presidio of Monterey and commanding general of Fort Huachuca and the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, U.S. Army Installation Management Command, Headquarters Department of the Army, as well as local military and municipal officials — proved essential to keeping the garrison safe.
In addition, U.S. Army Installation Management Command Deputy Director for Protection Floyd Williams was scheduled to travel to the Presidio to evaluate garrison performance during the full-scale exercise. Despite the exercise’s cancellation, Williams still made the trip to the Presidio and provided valuable guidance and input regarding how the garrison responded.
Kline said he would like to thank all of the above for their assistance.
As the garrison’s recovery from the storms continues, garrison and city leaders look back on the experience with pride in their response and confident they can integrate lessons learned in future exercises and emergencies.
For example, Joaquin “JR” Finona, acting director of the PoM Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said MWR officials worked closely with the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion to prepare two emergency shelters during the storm.
Soldiers set up one shelter with 48 cots, generators and a registration center at the Gen. Stilwell Community Center at Ord Military Community in about 45 minutes, Finona said. “It was pretty amazing,” he said.
Soldiers from the unit also secured equipment for another shelter at the Price Fitness Center on the Presidio, but it did not become necessary to set it up, Finona said. It also did not become necessary to use the shelter at Ord Military Community.
Finona said he and the MWR team learned ways they could improve next time, and preparing the shelters was a valuable experience.
Similarly, officials with the garrison’s Logistics Readiness Center, often called the LRC, ensured adequate supplies were on hand, such as food and fuel, in the event the peninsula was cut off due to county flooding. Brian Clark, LRC director, also coordinated with the contractor that runs the installation’s dining facilities to provide Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center students a place to study during frequent power outages in some barracks. Many had important tests coming up.
Bethany Pinkas, a logistics management specialist for the LRC, said the first call about a power outage in the barracks came in Monday, Jan. 9, a little before 5:30 p.m. By the DFACs’ closing time of 7 p.m., garrison and contract officials had a solution coordinated to keep the facilities open later. Another outage occurred Wednesday, Jan. 18, and officials kept the DFACs open again.
Both nights the Belas and Chay dining facilities stayed open until 10 p.m. to provide light, heat and studying capabilities for the service members who had a power outage in their barracks, Pinkas said. A manager stayed late, as well as staff to help cleanup.
“The response shows the teamwork between the LRC and the garrison and their capabilities, as well as the contractor’s willingness to support service members,” Pinkas said.
Another situation that required constant attention and coordination was the falling trees and branches on post.
Mike Tope, an assistant forester with the City of Monterey who often works at the Presidio due to the IGSA, said more than 15 trees fell at the Presidio since the beginning of the year and during the storms. Providing warnings, clearing debris and looking for weak trees became a 24-hour job.
One night at about 7 p.m. a tree fell across Mason Road, blocking the road to motorists, Tope said, and he responded immediately since he lives in the area. The city calls a contractor to remove trees, and that is what happened in this case.
“It was a very significant, large tree that was suspended against the building [Pyeatt Barracks, in Building 827], so we called our primary contractor, and they came out with a bucket truck and a crane to rig out all the wood out and open the road,” Tope said.
In the future, it is important for community members to know they should immediately call (831) 242-5526 if they see a fallen or weak tree, Tope said. In emergencies, call 911. People should also stay out of forested areas during heavy winds. Also, if pedestrians see signs that say, “do not enter” or “caution,” it’s important to heed them.
Now that the storms have ceased, Kline said he looks back on the situation and is confident that garrison personnel built relationships and rehearsed processes that will prove beneficial long into the future.
“I’m proud of our team,” Kline said. “I’m proud of the local military and government officials and their ability to include the Presidio of Monterey and the Naval Postgraduate School in their calculus.”