TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Nearly four years after the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center began rebuilding Tyndall AFB following Hurricane Michael, a disaster recovery response team armed with expertise and lessons learned from that storm is helping MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, assess damage in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
After Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall in October 2018, AFIMSC formed a task force to help the base recover. That task force has evolved into the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Natural Disaster Recovery Division and now includes a Disaster Recovery Response Team.
The division serves as a strategic reserve of expertise equipped to tackle natural disasters that may strike any Air Force or Space Force installation. With capabilities that include damage assessment, requirements development and construction execution, the division is uniquely qualified to stabilize a base after a natural disaster event.
As Hurricane Ian was closing in on the Tampa area and nearby MacDill Air Force Base, the team was spun up.
“We were ready,” said Maj. Allen Lewis, NDR Response Operations Branch chief.
For the fledgling team, which had only conducted one exercise previously, Hurricane Ian was its first real-world activation. Although Ian’s course eventually took it farther south from MacDill, the base still suffered some damage from the high winds of the Category 4 hurricane. When the call for assistance came, the team deployed to assess damaged roofs across the base.
Up until that point the team had leaned forward and watched the weather. They conducted daily calls and updates with MacDill leaders and AFIMSC teammates in San Antonio, who also had their bags packed ready to fly to Florida to join the Tyndall-based team.
“This was the first time we were able to get this team together in an operational stance,” Lewis said about having the team assembled, equipment organized, vehicles staged and mission partners ready to support.
That strategic reserve of expertise isn’t the only asset available to the team. With reach back to AFIMSC’s Incident Response Team in San Antonio, the team can tap into crucial capabilities like finance, contracting, security forces, logistics, communications and the more than 150 installation and mission support capabilities that centralized under AFIMSC when the center stood up in 2015.
Immediately following a disaster, the team frees up installation leadership and resources to focus on their people and mission, while the team conducts a full assessment of the damage and builds a recovery plan.
The team of project managers, programmers and experienced civil engineers can augment base expertise with structural, electrical, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning specialists.
“This team can go on site and operate out of its own equipment,” Lewis said. “We bring a tent where we can sleep and a trailer we can operate out of.”
With a generator and their gear on hand, all the team requires is a small open space.
“We’ll do an initial cost estimate,” Lewis said. “What Congress or higher headquarters continually wants within that first seven days is a number … something. What’s the magnitude? Are we talking $100,000 or $1 million? Are we talking $10 million? Or, in the case of Tyndall, billions? What is the number?”
To the 30-day post-event mark, the team is there to write a statement of work, generate and program projects, do detailed cost estimates and submit the necessary paperwork DoD uses to submit requirements and justifications for military construction funding requests to Congress.
Based on lessons learned from Tyndall’s experience with Hurricane Michael and catastrophic flooding at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, in 2019, the NDR team learned commanders were most worried about taking care of their people and getting their missions back on track.
“They’re not worried about long-term recovery when they’re in that crisis mode,” Lewis said.
Getting assistance from the Disaster Recovery Response Team is as simple as making a phone call or sending an email to the NDR chief. Once the team gets the green light, they literally load up the truck and start driving, Lewis added.
“I’m proud of what this team has accomplished,” said NDR Division Chief Col. Robert Bartlow. “This agile, rapid-response capability is just another example of our integrated AFIMSC team providing installation support whenever and wherever needed.”
As with previous disaster responses, AFCEC is always looking for how to do things better in the future.
“We stress continual improvement,” Bartlow said, “and we solicit feedback and evaluate our operations to ensure we’re doing the best job possible. We’re confident we can continue to meet the challenges our mission provides.”