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Kentucky’s worst natural disaster pelts Knox in 2009

Gold Standard Acting Editor
Last week’s ice storm evoked an eerie sense of déjà vu for many area residents. It was a Tuesday night exactly five years and one week ago that a similar—but far worse—storm blanketed the tristate area. In some parts of Kentucky, ten inches of snow fell on top of three inches of ice, toppling trees and pulling power lines to the ground. More than 800,000 Kentucky customers were without electricity and heat while at least 100 Kentucky counties declared states of emergency. Gov. Steve Beshear described the storm as the worst natural disaster in Kentucky’s history.
The Kentucky National Guard was activated, calling up an unprecedented 4,600 troops to relieve suffering and ensure safety. It is the largest Guard activation in the state’s history.
The most recent storm resulted in numerous ice-caked limbs crashing to the ground around the installation and a busted net at the golf course, but there was no damage to people compared to 28 deaths in the 2009 storm.
In addition, there was no need to activate the post shelter for this storm. In 2009, however, the bone-chilling temperatures coupled with no heat drove many Fort Knox residents from their homes, but the icy roads made travel unwise.
Thanks to the Army’s habit of exercises and drills, Knox personnel were reasonably well prepared to spring into action. Although previous drills had called for a facility to allow residents to shelter on the installation, it had never been activated in real life. Red Cross personnel had worked with Knox’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation personnel to teach them about shelters and emergency measures.
“We think we did so well because we had practiced,” said Randy Moore, FMWR’s director. “We had a system in place that worked.”
After a few false starts and rolling power outages, the shelter was organized at the Devers Teen Center. During the five days the shelter was operational, services were provided to more than 550 people, which included 250 children and a few dozen pets. The post provided meals, showers, laundry, cots and bedding. Fort Knox personnel supplied the elbow grease from 65 staff members, 18 volunteers and Soldiers from the 194th Armored Brigade and 16th Cavalry Regiment. Red Cross personnel were unable to assist due to the heavy demands across the Bluegrass State.
The shelter was closed when most residents were able to return to their quarters, thanks to the restoration of power.
“Bottom line; we did pretty well,” said Joel Tiotuico, the Installation Operations Center’s Operations and Plans supervisor.
“It really was a perfect exercise to learn on,” said Anna Hoop, a mobilization and deployment specialist at Army Community Service. “No one (here) was hurt and there was little damage.”
“What a great place (Devers was) for the shelter,” said Melinda Roberts, ACS director. The youth center was equipped with pool tables and games to help keep the young people entertained.
However, as with any situation, the Army generated situational reports and after action reports to identify lessons learned. Many of those lessons have led to changes enjoyed by the installation’s current citizens.
A Few of the Lessons Learned
* Communication needs improvement.
“We already have better communication tools in place,” said Moore, “but in 2009, (then-garrison Commander) Col. Rick Schwartz and the MPs (military police) were going door to door to let people know they could go to the shelter.”
- It was apparent that most people depended on TV or radio for their information, but the power outages were so widespread, few stations were broadcasting. Further, few people were equipped with battery-power radios and information wasn’t getting far enough fast enough.
* Energy management. After the storm, Knox personnel realized how vulnerable the installation’s power supply was. Most of the power for the cantonment was supplied from three power lines, all coming from the same substation. The energy security grid which is almost complete now (see story on page A6) is a direct result of the 2009 storm and provides three layers of power security.
In addition, the site designated for a shelter if one should be needed in the future is Natcher Physical Fitness Center. It has been equipped with a generator so the shelter would have lights and heat, regardless of weather conditions. Since then, several other sites have been adapted to receive generator power if needed.
* Shelter guidelines—as learned from the Red Cross—are effective. Initially, some thought was given to other shelter sites that would provide private rooms, but once the shelter was stood up, it became apparent that the Red Cross guidelines are safest and most appropriate.
* Pets should be allowed. Other emergency situations—Hurricanes Katrina, Ivan, Ike and more—demonstrated that some people will risk their own lives before abandoning the four-legged members of their families.
- “As long as they have their shot records, food, leash and a carrier or crate, pets will always be welcome in our shelters,” said Betsy Faber, the chief of Supper Services Division.
* Manpower management. Few were prepared for an emergency situation to last five days and in 2009, staff members were falling asleep on their feet. Faber admitted she went for 36 hours without sleep. Instead of 50 people showing up for five hours, a better plan would have 10 people reporting in staggered five hour-shifts.
- “We have to do a better job of planning for the long haul with more people prepared to do shifts for however long it takes,” Moore said.
Tiotuico added that more of the alternate staff members now train in drills and exercises to ensure the best possible preparation. There’s no guarantee that the primary person responsible for a duty will be the one available during an emergency and there isn’t time for on-the-spot training.
All in all, however, Tiotuico said the Ready Army guidelines are good ones: have a plan, make a kit and be in-formed. For more information about what should be in your kit and how to make a plan, visit http://www.acsim. army.mil/readyarmy/.
People need to be prepared to weather the first 72 hours on their own; emergency teams will be busy with fires/floods/medical emergencies, Tiotuico said.
“If you are the person in need, you ARE the first responder,” he said. “The more prepared you are, the better you can literally weather the storm.”