HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – An early March “bomb cyclone,” followed by quickly-melting snowfall, caused many rivers throughout the Midwest to quickly swell.
By March 15, floodwaters from the bulging Missouri River began creeping onto Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, home of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the Pentagon's nuclear strategic deterrence and global strike capabilities.
Preparing for the worst, base personnel strategically positioned more than 200,000 sandbags and 460 flood barriers to check the rising floodwaters. However, by March 16, officials knew there was no holding back the rising water and sandbagging efforts were abandoned. By March 17, one-third of the base was under water.
On March 18, Moon Hemm, a project manager with the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, opened an email from the Air Force Petroleum Office notifying her of the flooding at Offutt AFB.
Hemm manages several Air Force projects under Huntsville Center’s Fuels Program using the GSA Facility Maintenance and Management Schedule contract. The contract ensures fuel storage tanks and equipment are maintained and repaired as needed.
In the email to Hemm, a petroleum office official explained the situation at Offutt. TetraTech-Maytag representatives, the Center’s Recurring Maintenance & Minor Repair Program contractors, would have to be available as soon as possible to travel to the base and survey the damage.
As Hemm opened the images attached to her email, she knew the situation was dire. She initially thought the situation would likely be similar to the aftermath of Hurricane Michael at Tyndall Air Force Base in October.
“I knew it was bad and all I could think about was the possibility of jet fuel leaking into the water and how that would be an environmental disaster,” Hemm said.
Then, on March 19, base officials reviewed aerial photos of the flooded area. They identified a sheen on top of the flood water near the fuel storage area and deployed more than 3,700 feet of boom to contain any possible fuel leak.
When Hemm was notified concerning the sheen, she began thinking the worst—a bulk fuel tank had ruptured or a fuel line had burst.
Upon closer examination, base officials suspected the sheen was actually caused by residual fuel from submerged equipment. There was no evidence of a ruptured tank or a fuel line leak.
“I still assumed a lot of work would be executed via the Huntsville Center contract to get the facilities functioning, particularly bulk fuel storage,” Hemm said.
Her assumptions were correct.
As the situation at Offutt continued developing, Hemm was corresponding with Jason Teem, 55th Civil Engineer Squadron workforce management supervisor, and coordinating efforts with TTM representatives. There were still concerns regarding all fuel storage and dispensing systems and she needed TTM’s engineers and maintenance personnel on site, performing inspections as soon as possible.
“Base leadership and engineers wanted to first discuss (the situation) with their environmental folks whether or not the contractors would be able to even access the base,” Hemm said. “Then I was notified that barring any additional rain, snow or upstream releases, the water should start receding on March 22.”
Before she could send contractors to the base, Hemm had to wait for the “all clear” notification.
On March 27, she received notification to send the TTM assessment team. By March 28, the team was on the ground at Offutt troubleshooting the bulk fuel farm. By March 29, TTM’s inspectors were preparing reports for items that required repair or recommended replacement.
Two weeks later, Hemm received the final assessment report: 156 deficiencies identified with the longest repair item having a 24-week lead time. She sent the reports to Teem.
The report was simply more bad news for base personnel. She said they were in a hurry for things to get back to normal as quickly as possible. She felt it was urgent to explain all different aspects of the contract to Offutt personnel, especially Teem.
Although he was familiar with the Huntsville Center contract, Teem said he wasn’t keen on its specifics. Like so many maintenance and repair contracts, he said if the work is completed and on schedule, it’s “out of sight, out of mind.”
Everything had run smoothly over the life of the contract, Teem said. Then floodwaters climbed and concerns grew regarding the fuel storage systems.
“I’d never really had a reason to reach out to the program manager,” he said
Teem began receiving requests from Offutt leadership regarding what the RMMR contract specifically included and how fast repairs could be made once the floodwaters receded. Teem was soon reaching out to Hemm to find out more.
Through his correspondence, Teem recognized Hemm’s dedication. He knew that what needed fixing would get fixed.
He said Hemm was more than knowledgeable (regarding the contract’s provisions), but what really made him appreciate Hemm was her genuine concern for what was happening at Offutt.
“Moon (Hemm) told me she considered Huntsville Center a part of the Offutt team,” he said. “I could tell she was genuinely concerned and wanted to help.”
Teem said Hemm was especially eager to answer any questions from Offutt personnel about the contract and the RMMR Program.
“She briefed our (55th Civil Engineering Squadron) folks concerning the contract, the services it provides and how the contract benefitted our situation best,” Teem said. “She’s a great project manager and a great communicator and her assistance was greatly appreciated.”
Hemm said she believes communication is crucial during a crisis. She continues to participate in bi-weekly teleconferences between key stakeholders to ensure priorities, work efforts and on site requirements are de-conflicted in advance.
Huntsville Center’s RMMR Program contractors continue bulk storage repair efforts while Omaha District contractors continue repairing Type III fuel storage (ground vehicles and generators) under guidance from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center and oversight by Offutt civil engineer squadron personnel.
Offutt personnel have made major strides toward finding the base’s new normal, in part, because of the support received from its partners and stakeholders.
“Their support throughout this whole ordeal has only strengthened our resolve to come back even stronger,” said Col. Michael Manion, 55th Wing commander.