By Jane Gervasoni, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJuly 25, 2011
“Growing up near Aberdeen Proving Ground in the ‘40s and ‘50s meant that you heard a lot of big guns firing and felt a lot of vibration from those guns,” explained lifelong Harford County, Md., resident Jack Molnar. “But you understood that the testing was important and was just part of life in the area.”
In today’s world, the vibration and the noise are important issues affecting both military facilities and the communities located close to them, according to Catherine Stewart, the operational noise program manager at the U.S. Army Public Health Command. The Army’s need to maintain ranges and airspace is significantly impacted by the attitudes of those who live near military airfields, ranges and training facilities, she added.
When installations were established, they were usually in rural areas isolated from large population areas. That has changed, Stewart said, adding that Army installations are now surrounded by large urban areas due to rapid residential growth and development.
As a retired government employee who worked on both the Edgewood and Aberdeen areas of APG, Molnar watched the local area develop rapidly with little coordination with the needs of the defense industry in its midst. “Developers and planners didn’t take the needs of the military into consideration when they started all this building,” he said.
With the growing demand for realistic training and Base Realignment and Closure, noise issues are becoming more serious according to Stewart. She works to develop installation operational noise plans that include quantification of the noise environment, community outreach, complaint management, noise and vibration mitigation, and land use planning. These noise plans take into consideration the needs of the military and the local communities and try to address the issues from both sides.
According to Army regulations, installations are required to have noise plans, and Stewart and the eight people in her program are paid by installations to develop them.
“We perform noise assessments using computer models for noise produced by aircraft, small arms, large caliber weapons and demolition, usually at the request of installation environmental personnel. Then we provide reports to installation commanders and personnel that can be shared with the local community,” Stewart explained.
The local community became very involved when the Army decided to move its Explosive Ordnance Disposal School to Fort A.P. Hill, Va., as part of the BRAC process, and the USAPHC operational noise specialists were brought in to perform noise testing by measuring the noise levels and the effects of different weather conditions and locations.
Stewart and her team set up 12 monitoring stations, and she arranged for members of the community to stand by the monitors and record their impressions of the noise as well.
“This helped the community to feel that the installation cared about them. Neighbors start to complain when peak noise levels reach about 115 decibels [the sound of thunder from a close lightning strike],” explained Stewart. “Even if the noise lasts only a short time, it can be annoying to those who live nearby.”
Local weather conditions have a big effect on noise transmission, further complicating the program’s work.
“Under certain weather conditions, sound travels well, so a blast that may rattle windows on an overcast day may not even be heard on a clear day,” she said.
Information like this can help the military plan their exercises so that the weather actually helps them mitigate the sound levels. Plus, when the community members understand the issues, they become more willing to work together with the military, Stewart added.
“The pivotal issue with noise is annoyance. Our military environmental noise management efforts are intended to minimize annoyance,” said Stewart. “It is in everyone’s best interest to educate the public on readiness missions and to work together to lessen the impact of military training.”