1/31/2014 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- There are those who make fun of southerners when it comes to prepping for snow, sleet or ice. But, it was Robins' preparation that saved lives and put employees and their families' safety first.
Say what you will about base leaderships' decisions this week, but would you rather be stranded in a car for hours, or waiting for your children to get home after being on a school bus overnight? Or worse yet - spending the night in unfamiliar territory?
While many might think that's a stretch, it happened as close as Atlanta, and could've happened to some of our employees here - especially those who live in areas hardest hit by the storm.
So what did Robins do to be prepared?
Even before the first drop of precipitation, Col. Christopher Hill, Installation commander, gathered a team of experts to discuss the options of closure, delayed reporting and re-opening the base for personnel.
And, that team discussed topics such as employee safety; mission down time; emergency response, traffic and increased duty shifts. They also discussed housing and food for those unable to get home after a shift; limited manning, weather implications and road hazards.
Not only that, but they also looked at aircraft sorties, communication to the workforce and more.
Those subject matter experts ranged from security to food operations and maintenance to civil engineers. They also included medical and weather specialists - to name a few. And, all were in daily contact on conference calls as well as attending numerous meetings to prepare for the worst.
When the worst didn't happen the first day and the base was closed for all non-mission essential personnel, the criticism began. Not deterred, the team continued with its plans and was more than ready when the base was closed a second day when bad weather moved into the area.
This time it was seen as a prudent move - especially as horror stories were being reported nationally from other nearby areas.
The following is just a snapshot of some of the efforts which continued while many base employees were in the safety of their own homes.
- Airfield Management, Weather Flight and Base Operations worked 24/7 to monitor the ever-changing weather conditions at Robins. They provided hourly forecast updates and valuable up-to-the minute "eyes on" condition reports to leadership. As airfields across the southeast were closing rapidly, Robins remained open until ice was present on the runway. They were also available to provide an opportunity for civilian and military aircraft to divert to the base in case of an emergency.
"It was a true team effort with contractors, Airmen and civil service members doing whatever was asked to ensure the safe and expeditious flow of operations on the airfield," said Lt. Col. Dwayne Gray, 78th Operations Support Squadron commander. "Experience and love for the mission had the team at the 'top of their game' because they knew the safety of so many depended on them."
The 78th Security Forces Squadron was also postured to deal with anything that could come their way.
- Security Forces ensured there were mission-essential personnel for the flight line, patrols, commercial vehicle access and minimum base entry control points. The unit communicated base status to personnel entering the installation in order to provide closure status on medical, the Exchange and the commissary. Mobile patrols assisted civil engineering and logistics readiness in site surveys to assess road conditions and prepared for anyone in need of assistance or emergencies. Squadron members prepositioned cots, sleeping bags, all terrain vehicles and a small supply of "meals, ready to eat" in the event personnel would need to serve consecutive shifts without the ability to travel on- and off-base. SFS members were also postured to arrive to base early and prep the installation for mass opening to facilitate safe travel for all Team Robins to transition back to normal operations once the inclement weather passed.
- The 78th Civil Engineer Group was ready for unforeseen contingencies. They were immediately able to use street-sweeping capabilities to knock ice off the roads. Team members were continually assessing the roads during regular drive-arounds. Thinking ahead resulted in prepositioned stand-by dump trucks and sand piles for walkways and entry ways. Workers were able to identify needed actions and respond to emergency incidents on the base.
"I'm very pleased and comforted by the professionalism and dedication of my folks," said Otis Hicks, CEG director. "Our folks were sharing experiences and prior lessons learned to help others." All the planning and continuous collaboration definitely made a difference.
A message left on the base's Action Line probably said it best, "A job well done. Kudos to the base commander for shutting down the base for two days and delaying arrival times this morning (Thursday) in accordance with the weather forecast and conditions. He potentially saved thousands of dollars in vehicle accident costs and more importantly loss of human life."