By Jessica Hall, Northwest GuardianJanuary 27, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- As snow and ice pummeled the Puget Sound last week, Joint Base Lewis-McChord sprang to action to clear snow and fallen limbs from the road, as well as restore power to the installation.
When power went out for more than 24 hours at approximately 900 of the 4,901 homes on the installation, mainly on McChord Field, and at even more homes throughout the Puget Sound region, JBLM designated Wilson Sports and Fitness Center and McChord Field Fitness Center as warming centers.
About 100 people used the facilities, according to Denis Senftner, deputy director of the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation at JBLM, for warmth, hot showers and a place to stay overnight.
Corporal Brian Stephenson of the 17th Fires Brigade came to newly designated warming center at Wilson with his family Jan. 20 for a hot shower after losing power in their Tumwater home.
"We're staying with a friend who has a wood burning stove; there are nine people staying there," Stephenson said. "If this continues (for days) we may get a hotel."
Lodging rates at the inns on JBLM, Rainier and Evergreen, were reduced to $33.50 a night to accommodate anyone who wished to stay there.
Captain Hal Purka of the 23rd Chemical Battalion was planning to call Rainier Inn for a room after losing power in his DuPont home. He was pleased with JBLM's overall response and community effort to help everyone out.
"Our first sergeant is taking care of the Soldiers in the barracks," he said of his battalion's response to the snow, adding that plans were in place if power was lost for an extended amount of time.
FMWR and Army Community Services set up hotlines staffed by military family life consultants to help JBLM Soldiers and families in need of aid. Another hotline was established to specifically help families enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program locate community resources during the storm.
Military family life consultants also walked around highly trafficked areas on JBLM, including Waller Hall and McVeigh Sports and Fitness Center and the warming centers, to talk to servicemembers and their families and let them know that there was someone to talk to if they were stressed by the storm.
As of Saturday, all FMWR facilities were up and running. The only major damages to FMWR facilities were at Eagles Pride and Whispering Firs Golf Courses, due primarily to the number of downed trees.
Colonel Thomas Brittain, Joint Base Lewis-McChord commander, thanked the entire community for helping restore normalcy to the installation.
"We're all in this together, and I've been seeing evidence of that again and again these past three days," he said. "Neighbors are helping neighbors, units are helping units, and people are extending themselves for the good of their community. Our installation staff will keep at it until we get our community back to normal."
As power was steadily restored to the area, many servicemembers turned to ACS for financial assistance to help pay for lodging and replacing lost food. But they stress that before coming to ACS, servicemembers should contact their insurance companies or at least read their policies about coverage.
"Check with your insurance provider immediately to check your coverage and so that the company can begin working on claims related to the storm," said Mary Cron, ACS financial program manager. Money could be available within days to help repay for storm-related purchases.
If their insurance policy does not cover financial losses because of the storm, ACS financial advisers are available to servicemembers to help find a solution. Soldiers have access to the Army Emergency Relief program, and Airmen to the Air Force Aid Society for interest-free loans to help cover costs.
Jo Dempsey, ACS Family Services program director, said the winter storm was a wake up
call for everyone to be prepared for emergencies. On top of having flashlights, blankets and nonperishable food items at home, she and Cron advise every servicemember to establish an emergency savings fund for future incidents.
Dempsey said, "This storm was a learning experience. Families need to make plans in advance and have a plan of action in place in case they lose power in the future."
Jessica Hall: email@example.com