PWD Sigonella, Italy experiences an unavoidable impact of Climate Change

17 November 2021
Planning and preparations necessary to adapt and enhance resilience to the effects of climate change are ongoing for Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Public Works Departments (PWD) worldwide. Restoring utilities, repairing infrastructure and resuming services to mission capable status, during and after a storm, are critical to mission success and the safety of personnel. Naval Air Station (NAS) PWD Sigonella personnel are currently reviewing and editing their plans based on lessons learned following a deadly storm that hit much of Sicily in October.
Planning and preparations necessary to adapt and enhance resilience to the effects of climate change are ongoing for Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Public Works Departments (PWD) worldwide. Restoring utilities, repairing infrastructure and resuming services to mission capable status, during and after a storm, are critical to mission success and the safety of personnel. Naval Air Station (NAS) PWD Sigonella personnel are currently reviewing and editing their plans based on lessons learned following a deadly storm that hit much of Sicily in October.

NAS Sigonella was in the path of a major Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone Oct. 24 that pummeled the installation with a year’s worth of rain in 48 hours. PWD Sigonella had been preparing for foul weather but the storm caught even meteorologist by surprise with its intensity. According to Italian meteorologists, on the evening of Oct. 24, over 15 inches of rain fell during one two-hour period.

The storm stretched some mechanical capacities beyond their limits but did not overwhelm the team.

During the early parts of the storm, PWD Sigonella received reports of flooding at the water treatment plant on the Marinai Housing Complex. Utilitiesman 1st Class (UT1) Thomas Hines, UT2 Stefan Anglin, and UTCN Timothy Heldreth responded immediately.

“No one ever sits around and asks for a disaster to happen, but when it does, those whose mission it is to help - like us Seabees - thrive on taking action,” said UT1 Hines. That night we faced flooded roads in between NAS II and Marinai and knew the vehicle we use to haul our pump could not make it through, but knowing the families on Marinai were depending on us, we were going to find a way. We immediately contacted our transportation department to use their truck then UT2 Anglin and UTCN Heldreth drove through the water and over to the Marinai water plant where they pumped water non-stop, all through night, removing over 35K gallons of rain water. Although tired and wet it, was great to know we could help out our community."

Over on the main operational site for the installation, saturated shifting soils ruptured the raw water line leading from the primary raw water tank to the Water Treatment Plant and, again, PWD Seabees sprang into action to find a quick fix.

UT2 Michael Dentrement, UT2 Anglin, UTCN Heldreth, UTCN Jake Reiter and UTCN Conner Hobusch started to excavate for a bypass valve buried years before. After digging through four feet of concrete and clay, in the midst of the heavy rain, they found the valve and restored the base’s raw water supply.

UT2 Dentremont said "Even through terrible weather, everybody came together with a CAN DO spirit to complete the task at hand."

Water was not the only critical utility challenge. There were also power outages.

One outage occurred shortly after the strong winds began on Oct. 24. NAS 2 lost power causing the base to go dark except for the emergency generators on critical facilities. High Voltage Technicians Sebastiano Di Mauro, Giuseppe Gerratana, Agatino Seminerio, Paolo Mocciaro, and Salvatore Zito, led by Nunzio Debole, quickly responded. The local Italian national employees arrived on scene quickly and restored the power. They remained overnight at the installation coordinating with the Italian utility company to complete system repairs.

Once the rain stopped falling and the wind stopped blowing, the team had an opportunity to take a breather from operating in emergency response mode and begin their after action review.

“PWD Seabees and Italian employees from every shop dispatched throughout the installation in response to the storm, said Cmdr. Jason Christensen, Public Works Officer, PWD, Sigonella.

“Crews responded to mitigate roof leaks, clean up storm damage, prepare for future potential rain and high winds, clear roof drains, secure and repair damaged or wet electrical systems, clear clogged drain lines, etc. As always, our team responded exceptionally to the challenges created by the storm.”

The storm necessitated executing emergency plans; stressing equipment – especially water pumps - rapid reaction to unforeseen emergencies; teamwork; flexibility and ingenuity. Lessons learned from this recent storm will result in better preparedness when, not if, the next storm hits.

NAVFAC EURAFCENT plans, builds, leases and sustains facilities and provides essential base operating services and capabilities in the Europe, Africa, Central theaters to enable U.S., NATO and partner-nation forces to meet national defense objectives.
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