JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
It was an unusually warm September week in 2018 when Sophia Lee, a 673d Civil Engineer Squadron structural engineer, attended a local seminar titled, “ATC-20-1 Post-earthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings.”
Although Lee, like most attendees, was already prepared to carry out rapid assessments, this seminar, sponsored by the Applied Technology Council, included the latest knowledge in industry-accepted standards for buildings and structures.
“At the time, I knew it was a good idea for me to have this in-depth training, considering how often earthquakes happen and given our area’s seismic history,” Lee said. “Of course, I never would have guessed I’d be putting those very lessons and preparations into action the morning of Nov. 30.”
After the magnitude 7.0 earthquake, centered less than 10 miles north of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Airmen and Soldiers immediately began assessing personnel and structures.
“Shortly after we began the rapid assessments, we knew it would be impossible for one or two people to accomplish so it was decided that Scott Adams of the 673d CES, and I would train more than 20 of our CE Airmen to also be inspectors for level-four facilities,” Lee said. “Although the training was a condensed version of what I went through, the Airmen were receptive to learning the material. Between all of us and the manpower supplied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more than 800 facilities have received evaluations.”
According to the ATC-20 field manual, evaluations of buildings and facilities should be determined based on how essential they are. For JBER, level-one priorities directly relate to mission capability, level-two is facilities that are heavily used, a level-three is general offices, and level-four is for facilities used seasonally or infrequently.
“During our initial evaluations, we post green, yellow and red signs at every entrance of a facility in an effort to communicate with whoever might need access,” Lee said. “It is important for individuals to read the information provided on the plaques to safeguard themselves from hazards.”
Red signifies the structure has been inspected and found to be seriously damaged and is unsafe to occupy. Yellow is labeled ‘Restricted Use’ and specifies the structure has been inspected and found to have damage. Green indicates the structure has been inspected and no apparent structural hazard has been found.
“Once a yellow facility has been identified, it is then handed off to the Air Force Contract Augmentation Program, from Tyndall Air Force Base, to provide analysis and recommendations,” Lee said. “Our hope is to find a solution, based on the type of damages, and apply the same type of fixes throughout the installation. Of course we are also trying to look at what is the least impactful on the users of the facilities as well.”
More than 70 percent of facility inspections have been accomplished since the event two months ago with all level one and two assessments complete. Almost all level-three buildings have been assessed, which leaves only the level-four inspections.
Although the snow and cold weather conditions have caused some inspections to be delayed, the Airmen have learned extremely valuable skills in a short amount of time, Lee said.
“Despite the challenging circumstances the earthquake provided, our Airmen at every level were given an opportunity to apply their leadership abilities by getting the inspections done,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gerald Mora, 673d CES officer in charge of construction management. “In many ways it has equipped them with the knowledge of what to look for as they see a building going up. Now, they can identify possible weak areas and are armed with an extra tool in their tool belt, so to speak.”
“One of my hopes, going forward in the future, is to have all of our facility managers trained in the ATC-20-1 methods to further increase our abilities and remain agile,” Mora said.