JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
In addition to the periodic black bear or moose obstructing traffic, Alaska winters introduce a whole new array of driving hazards such as snow, black ice, frosted windows and darkness. Preparation for these obstacles can mean the difference between life and death.
“I once heard it said that safety should be inherent in everything we do, and I whole-heartedly believe that,” said Curtis Wolford, 673d Air Base Wing Safety Office specialist. “Reasons for staying safe run from protection of our nation's resources to being sure that you stay around and healthy for your family and friends.”
Base officials have three options when weather makes driving conditions hazardous for Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson drivers.
Mission-essential reporting: Only mission-essential personnel, as determined by unit commanders and supervisors, are required to report to duty. Unit commanders must specifically identify in advance who they determine as mission-essential.
Delayed reporting: All members report for duty while exercising caution and arriving as soon as conditions permit. Expected reporting time will be specified, but it will normally be a two-hour delay.
Early release: Unit commanders are responsible for managing early release within their organization when the installation commander initiates this action. The goal is to stagger departure times to alleviate congestion and to allow those who live furthest from the base to leave first.
These options provide the flexibility to balance safety and mission needs against inclement weather. Motorists can expect these options to be used infrequently. When conditions at home are severe enough to warrant changes to normal reporting times and no option has been directed, personnel should coordinate with supervision and unit commanders to modify arrival times and work schedules.
When the installation commander initiates any of these actions, the command post is notified and disseminates information and reporting procedures. The public affairs office notifies local news media and initiates changes to the JBER Information Line (552-INFO/4636), JBER web page, Facebook and Twitter sites with the latest reporting instructions.
If the base changes to mission-essential reporting, dining facilities and lodging will continue to operate to the maximum extent possible to meet the needs of customers. However, AAFES and commissary facilities may be closed. Call AAFES at 753-4422 and the commissary at 580-4425 for operating hours.
Snow and ice-covered parking lots are the source of many vehicle mishaps. Compressed snow and ice contribute to a lack of traction and become skating rinks for vehicles.
Before too much snow arrives there are several safety practices to consider.
“Stay aware. Being aware of the weather, nearby wildlife activity, other people's activities and common hazards are the keys to staying safety in Alaska,” Wolford said. “Becoming educated on the local wildlife, winter activities, and historical weather events can be very helpful in developing that awareness. Since lane markings on the roadways will be completely covered once the snow hits, everyone should get familiar with their normal routes of travel before the snow flies.”
According to the Department of Transportation, vehicles are authorized to operate with studded tires on paved highways or roads from Sept. 16 through April 30.
Road conditions are determined primarily by prevailing conditions on JBER. Installation leaders work with the Anchorage Police Department and consider off-base conditions when determining whether base closure or delayed reporting is needed.
Road condition advisories for JBER are as follows:
Green: Roads are clear and dry. Drivers should comply with normal vehicle operating procedures and posted speed limits.
Amber: Roads may be slippery due to snow, ice, or reduced visibility. Drivers should exercise caution.
Red: Roads may be hazardous due to snow, ice or reduced visibility. Drivers should exercise caution and reduce speeds by 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.
Black: Road conditions are extremely hazardous due to ice, snow or reduced visibility. Vehicle dispatching is prohibited unless directed by command authority. Only operate mission-essential and emergency-response vehicles. Drivers should exercise extreme caution and reduce speeds by 10 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.
Road conditions will be posted at all the gates and displayed on the electronic road condition signs at various locations on base to keep drivers aware of the current road conditions.
Being prepared on the Alaska roadways is also important.
“If you break down, do your best to remove your vehicle from the flow of vehicle traffic,” said Dennis Sessler, 773d Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and equipment manager. “Ensure a safe exit from the vehicle and use your roadside kit to place flares or warning triangles to notify other drivers you are having issues.”
Vehicles should carry an emergency kit, containing a shovel, windshield scraper and small broom, flashlight, battery-powered radio, extra batteries, water, snack food, extra hats, socks and mittens, first aid kit with pocket knife, necessary medications, blankets, tow chain or rope, road salt and sand, booster cables, emergency flares, matches and candles.
“Exercising safety during these winter months is critical to mission success,” Sessler said. “All personnel are here for a reason. One way or another, you impact the mission. When JBER’s finest are unable to accomplish their duties because of accidents, it puts a tax on the mission.”
For more information, visit Alaska Department of Natural Resources/Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation Winter Cold information at http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/safety/wintcold.htm or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Winter Driving Tips at https://one.nhtsa.gov/nhtsa/tips/winter/index.html.