When winter weather rolls in, the first question on the minds of most of the Fort Campbell workforce is whether or not post will be open.
Long before any snow or ice touches the ground, the garrison commander is already being inundated with all the relevant information to make the best decision for post.
“The information that they get is No. 1 the current forecast. They get the road conditions report from the MPs who are driving around. If it is snowing, they get the road clearance report from public works,” said Jay Fangman, emergency management specialist. “They also get the status of the schools both on and off post because that impacts Families. If you’ve got kids out of school that weighs into the decision.”
The garrison commander takes all that information and makes a recommendation to the senior commander, who makes the final decision whether Fort Campbell should be delayed, closed or open for normal operations.
Fangman said the aim is to make the decision as early as possible, but the latest a decision can be made is around 4:30 a.m. before even the earliest workers set out for the day.
“It would have to be some storm that just came out of nowhere for it to be that late,” he said. “Typically they’ll make it the night before so people can start setting plans.”
“When they issue that mission essential personnel still have to come in [that means people] like your firefighters, people who work in operations centers,” Fangman added.
Once the decision is made, Fort Campbell Public Affairs distributes the post status to local media, including television and radio stations. The information is also posted to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to let the workforce know as early as possible how to plan their day. The Emergency Operation Center also distributes the information through the AtHOC interactive warning system.
“It’s one of our mass notification systems we use to notify the installation of emergencies or incidents that may occur on the installation,” said Gerald Brooks, EOC operations specialist. “It’s one of our biggest means to communicate through text messaging, emails, telephone calls. And that’s how we reach our community here.”
Brooks said AtHOC is one of the main ways the EOC informs the public of any incidents on Fort Campbell and the commanders’ guidance.
The EOC also updates both the internal and external Fort Campbell websites with pertinent information, and informs Channel 9 of the decisions.
In addition to post delays and closures, AtHOC is used to warn of impending severe weather and to warn the community of cases of extreme emergencies on post.
“We have AtHOC along with the Giant Voice – those are our major mass notification methods we have to notify the community what’s going on,” Brooks said.
Brooks said anyone with a common access card is eligible to sign up for AtHOC and it only takes a few moments.
“If you go to the Fort Campbell portal, there’s a guide there telling them how to sign up for it,” he said. “For folks who are active military, there’s an icon on the bottom right hand of your screen. There’s a little purple icon there. They can click on that and register.”
Brooks said it’s important to fill out the information completely, such as work phone and cellphone numbers, in order to be properly registered.
“There’s ways of doing that. They can put their number in there and their spouse’s number as one of the other numbers. There’s ways to manipulate it so you can sign up both,” he said.
Brooks said Soldiers often manipulate the numbers because only people with CAC can sign up for the notification. He did warn that the system will stop sending messages after the first acknowledgment, meaning that if a spouse gets the message first the system won’t notify the Soldier.
“If it goes to your cellphone first and you acknowledge it, then it won’t go to the next cellphone,” he said. “It’ll end the transmission of the message.”
Fangman said Soldiers should also know how their unit handles severe weather before it hits.
“Just because post is closed for limited operations, that doesn’t mean the unit might not have a specific mission they have to get done that day,” he said.
While all these decisions are being made, the Directorate of Public Works has already begun preparing and clearing roads around post.
Before bad weather arrives, DPW begins fitting their trucks with snowplows and salt spreaders. DPW orders road salt and ensures the airfields have everything they need to safely continue operations.
They also begin monitoring the weather forecast. About 10 days out, they start to prepare for snow in the forecast.
“The closer we get the better the fidelity on the forecast. The Air Force [Detachment 4, 18th Weather Squadron] starts giving us updates on how much to expect and when to expect it,” said James Duttweiler, DPW director. “The more it looks like there’s going to be a snow event, we make sure we’ve got our salt in our trucks, and we start looking for if we have to cancel leave for employees. We start putting out information to all the units and housing occupants about what to expect.”
Duttweiler said when it does snow, his organization takes care of the roads first to ensure emergency vehicles can traverse post and get to and from the gates. When snow is heavy, he said his people get help clearing the key routes around post from engineering brigades.
After those roads are clear, DPW moves on to priority two roads – troops areas, barracks areas, housing areas and some additional east-west routes. Parking lots and organization areas are considered the lowest priority.
“Typically the average snowfall around here is not that much, we’re talking seven inches a year,” Duttweiler said. “The last couple of winters we’ve had a lot more snow so it’s been more of a challenge. But typically within a few days, the sun’s going to come out and it’s going to melt things away.”
He said contractors are used to clear important parking lots. Such as headquarters and the commissary. So they can reopen as soon as possible.
“Residents and units are responsible for clearing their sidewalks and their steps,” he said.
Duttweiler said residential streets fall under the purview of Campbell Crossings which uses contractors to clear the key housing roads.
“If we have a bad snow event, the best thing [residents] can do is stay home,” he said. “Have a snow shovel, take care of your sidewalks, put your salt out so that people don’t slip. It’s the worst time for slips trips and falls.”
He recommends on post residents as well as workers not park on the street in the event of major snow fall to avoid being hit by snowplows clearing the roads.
He said that DPW also puts out salt for units to use on the corner of Tennessee and First streets.
Duttweiler said his organization generally prefers to close post after a major snowfall because it makes it easier for them to clear the roads when they do not have to dodge traffic.
“Our goal is always for the post to be open at least a day ahead of the folks off post,” he said. “The school teachers don’t like us here because we like them to be back at work before their peers off post, but that’s what we generally aim for.”
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