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NEWS | Feb. 26, 2021

JBSA’s civil engineers power through, continue repairs after brutal storms

By Lori A. Bultman 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

During the historic artic blast last week at Joint Base San Antonio, civil engineers at the Department of Defense’s largest joint base fielded more than 1,200 calls. From those calls, 1,125 emergency work tasks were created.  

“Our personnel, from the Emergency Management Control System, customer service unit, service contracts, and 502d Civil Engineer Squadron leaders, have been working through the calls throughout this record event,” said Lara A. Schoenenberger, 502 Civil Engineer Squadron deputy director.  

“Special thanks go out to all the crews that came in and stayed at each JBSA installation for several days in order to provide quick 24/7 responses to all 266 Mission Partners across JBSA,” she said. “We sincerely appreciate that these team members sacrificed time from their families and homes during this time to ensure JBSA was able to continue to operate and support the thousands of Soldiers and Airmen living in dorms and the housing communities. 

“The road crews stayed ahead of each phase of the storm and JBSA roads and bridges were always de-iced and sanded,” Schoenenberger said. “Our shop teams have been working around the clock responding to no heat, no water, no power calls, repairing burst or frozen plumbing, moving port-o-johns to dorms with no water, and picking up trash in between calls, since trash service stopped with the local landfills closed.” 

Schoenenberger also expressed thanks to the Emergency Management Control System and the customer service unit, whom she said did a fantastic job fielding the deluge of calls and requests coming in, and dispatching the necessary teams.  

“Early in the week, we were dealing with the power outages and were in constant communication with CPS Energy,” she said. “We became aware of the destabilized grid in the middle of the night, and we immediately instructed EMCS to turn the temperature down in all buildings to 66 degrees.” 

Additionally, generators were turned on to reduce load demand on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, grid even more, she said.  

Across JBSA at least 350 buildings experienced minor to severe water damage 

“Most of the water damage is coming from burst fire sprinkler lines, busted heating coils, and ruptured plumbing lines on the exterior walls or in attics,” Schoenenberger said. 

If tenants checked on facilities during the storms, CE was notified about damages quickly, and several water leaks were discovered as crews passed by and saw water coming out a front door, or if the crew was responding to a leak – they would start checking the adjacent buildings, she said.  

Chiller plants on both JBSA-Randolph and Port of San Antonio had major water leaks, with JBSA-Randolph's 1.2M gallon capacity nearly drained because of them. 

“The sensors froze and broke, so the pumps have to be manually turned on and off to maintain chilled water flow to keep facilities and server rooms cool,” Schoenenberger said.  

Repairing the damage and getting back to normal will take time, for both JBSA and the region.   

“The weather may have switched back our normal South Texas winter of sunny days and chilly nights, but the storm damage remains,” Schoenenberger said. “Finding the leaks and ordering or fabricating the needed parts is the stage we are in. It will take the entire 502nd team to focus all of our efforts on storm damage response and recovery efforts. There is plenty of work for each of us.”  

As recovery efforts continue, other leaders in the 502nd CES applaud their teammates for the work they accomplished during the crisis.  

“I could not be prouder of the women and men of the 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron who, during the harshest conditions, were securing water breaks, responding to facility alarms, and keeping JBSA roads safe to drive on,” said Roger Wilkson, the squadron’s executive director. “Without hesitation, our professionals headed out in extreme cold and on dangerous roadways to protect the infrastructure and facilities across JBSA. Though the damage is great, it could have been much worse without the 502nd CES Superheroes!”