The eerie silence spoke volumes about the storm’s aftermath. Chris Schulze noticed the unusual stillness when he first arrived 48 hours after Hurricane Michael obliterated most of Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida.
“It was so quiet with no aircraft flying. Storm debris everywhere made it very hard to drive around on roads due to downed trees and power lines, and parts of buildings in the way,” said Schulze, a project manager for KBR, a government solutions company assisting with the base’s restoration.
One year ago, on Oct. 10, 2018, Michael made landfall as a category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained wind speeds of 160 mph. The hurricane – only the fourth Category 5 on record to hit the U.S. – barreled over Tyndall causing devastating damage to the base’s infrastructure.
Hours after Michael made a historic landfall, the Air Force called upon KBR to help with recovery efforts. Under contract to help the U.S. government with rapid response to urgent needs during contingency situations, KBR was able to mobilize quickly to begin the recovery efforts.
The recovery efforts begin.
KBR employees arrived on site within 48 hours after the Air Force’s call to action and immediately began working around the clock to restore the base. The first task was to establish critical life support services and assess the devastation. This included working with a local company to deliver 63,000 meals ready to eat (MREs), 21,000 water bottles and 4,000 10-pound bags of ice within one day after the storm.
With immediate needs addressed, KBR started tackling key tasks such as providing temporary fixes to severely damaged buildings, establishing a dining operation within nine days of arrival, removing debris, and extracting national assets, including aircraft. It also supplied critical resources, such as emergency power, satellite communications and the internet.
According to Shawn Parker, KBR construction manager at Tyndall, restoring the disemboweled base made for tiring, but rewarding work.
“Buildings had pieces and parts hanging off and flapping in the wind. Sharp steel and glass were everywhere, making you very mindful of where you walked because of all the hazards,” said Parker.
“KBR employees worked 100-plus hour weeks for the first two months. It was a very fluid and fast-paced environment with a high volume of information to process,” Parker continued. “We were absolutely exhausted, but felt a great sense of pride in what we were doing to help the Air Force.”
Road to recovery
Two months into the recovery efforts, KBR had mobilized and assembled a team of 3,300 personnel on site and functioned as a self-sustaining organization. The company joined the Air Force’s Task Force Phoenix – one of three task forces established by the military in response to the devastation. Phoenix’s mission was to address infrastructure, clear debris and ensure buildings were preserved as much as possible.
As part of this task force, KBR removed 792,450 cubic yards of debris, which is equivalent to 16 U.S. Capitol Building Rotundas; supported critical asset recovery operations for 4,110 items valued at $5.9B and weather-proofed and sealed 164 facilities.
The company has also replaced 816,157 square feet of roofs which equals 14 football fields. It performed remediation and build-back of 127 facilities, permanent repairs to 50 facilities and critical repairs to five aircraft hangars. Additionally, KBR provided 103,843 meals over a three-month period which included the holidays.
“When we opened a temporary dining facility, the airmen were able to celebrate their first real holiday – Thanksgiving – since the storm and relax for a few hours,” said Schulze. “This made it feel more like home to them and not a disaster area.”
Looking back one year later: Building the base of the future
Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall Air Force Base, but not its future. Since last October, KBR and the Air Force have continued to work together to rebuild Tyndall to become an installation of the future. Recently, the DoD announced it will bring the F-35 Lightning II aircraft to the base by 2023 as part of its strategy, as well as adopt new technologies for smart buildings.
“The teamwork between the Air Force, KBR and numerous local subcontractors has been a linchpin in the recovery efforts. We have all been part of the same team from day one,” said Byron Bright, President of KBR’s U.S. Government Solutions business. “KBR continues to rebuild Tyndall and remains committed to meeting the Air Force’s needs as it gets ready for the F-35 aircraft.”
A year after Hurricane Michael, Tyndall has resumed its normal operations and the buzz of Air Force activity has replaced the silence first present after the storm.
“We have watched the base come alive again as missions return to Tyndall,” said Schulze. “Witnessing it has been the most rewarding aspect of this journey to recovery.”