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Scott AFB personnel responds to flash floods

Scott AFB; 2020 flood

Senior Airman Tiffany Hestand, 375th Security Forces Squadron installation entry controller, warns oncoming traffic of safety hazards from high water, Aug. 12, 2020, at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. High waters and flash flooding occurred from a large storm front that produced more than five inches of water on the base in a matter of hours. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karen Petitt)

Scott AFB; 2020 flood

A towing truck prepares to move a C-21 from the hangar, Aug. 12, 2020, at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. A large storm cell centered over the base causing flash flooding in portions of the installation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Miranda Simpson)

Scott AFB; 2020 flood

C-21 aircraft, assigned to the 458th Airlift Squadron, sit in flood waters, Aug. 12, 2020, at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. A large storm cell centered over the base, produced large amounts of rain in a short time, causing flash flooding on portions of the installation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- Members of Scott Air Force Base rallied together to respond to the Aug. 12 flash floods that closed on- and off-base roads, the C-21 hangar and on- and off-base housing areas.

The storm, which settled over the base for about two hours, produced approximately 5.5 inches of rain, causing power outages for several work centers, and snarling traffic for hours, which also caused many to just shelter in place until the water receded. 

Some of the 13,000 workforce at Scott AFB remember the 2013 flash flooding that also wreaked havoc around the base—enough to close the runway for a short time so employees could evacuate the base through the flightline. This led to a partnership between the base and local communities to address stormwater management that affected everyone, which paved the way for grants to improve drainage and clear debris along Silver Creek, on the base and along the watershed areas.

“My first thought was thank goodness we made all those improvements to our drainage system over the last few years, or this would have been a lot worse,” said John Ahern, 375th Mission Support Group deputy and Emergency Operations Center lead for the response effort. “But, even with all those improvements, it’s tough to fight a stalled weather pattern that continues to just dump on you. When there’s nowhere for the water to go … we just have to do the best we can to mitigate the damage and deal with it afterward.”

The first notifications about the severity of the issue came about 11 a.m. when officials advised people on base to avoid the express, gas station, golf course road and base housing, effectively restricting travel due to safety concerns. Base leadership activated the emergency operations center and unit control centers to lead and coordinate the response to the flood waters.

As water began to fill streets and overflow drainage ditches and retention ponds, Maj. Allen Lewis, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron operations flight commander, and his team, along with the 375th Security Forces Squadron, advised the installation commander to stop movement on the base. The gates were then closed to inbound traffic to prevent drivers from being trapped once inside. However, the rising waters were creating additional problems for Lewis and his team.

“There were too many impassable roads,” Lewis said. “The mitigation efforts that we had, cones and barricades, were already washed away. (With that,) we weren’t even able to effectively identify roads that were closed.”  

As the situation worsened, the 375th CES deployed more than 50 people to work mitigation efforts as the base continued to flood. Airmen from the 375th SFS were sent out to direct traffic and keep people off impassable roads.

“It was the worst flooding I had seen in my time here,” said Airman 1st Class Agustine Diaz, 375th SFS guardsmen. “We saw cars sinking. When we were doing our inspections to see what other areas were bad, we saw cars stuck by the 126th Air Refueling Wing, so we had to reroute traffic there as well.”

According to Lewis, some of the worst areas accumulated almost 4 feet of water. Airmen attempting to move from the 126th Air Refueling Wing side of the base found themselves cut off near the 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron’s buildings and ended up stuck in traffic.

As more cars began to sink and stall, Airmen with larger vehicles came together to help their fellow Airmen to safety.

“For the cars that I could get to, I would pull up and either have them jump in or guide them out,” said Senior Airman Christian Mahoney, 375th Cyber Operations Center cyber operations controller. “All three of the people I was helping froze up, so just keeping them calm and getting them out safely was my top priority.”

By 3 p.m., water levels began to lower and the sun came out. By 5 p.m., all the roads on base were deemed passable.

The following day, base personnel continued to assess damage while jumping in to clean up. More than 40 facilities were impacted by the flood, prompting some personnel to move to different office spaces to continue the mission. Hangar 3, home to the 458th Airlift Squadron’s C-21 fleet, flooded, with water coming up to the bottoms of the aircraft. The flightline is not damaged and operations continue.  

Col. Scot Heathman, 375th Air Mobility Wing commander, said he was proud of the way the base responded and the teamwork the Airmen demonstrated.

“Team Scott (AFB) really came together to respond to this storm, and I’m proud of how our Airmen jumped into action,” Heathman said. “We’ve taken some punches, but I’m happy to say that only one minor injury was reported, and operations didn't miss a beat. I would like to thank our Airmen, mission partners, and contractors for coming together and facing this event head on.”

 

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