Fierce storm whips through Fort Meade
Meade continues to clean up following Friday weather
By Lisa R. Rhodes
"Immediately after the storm, Fort Meade firefighters and police officers conducted an initial damage assessment across the installation and began removing trees from the primary routes to facilitate the movement of emergency vehicles across the post," said Lt. Col. J. Darrell Sides, Fort Meade provost marshal and director of the Directorate of Emergency Services.
Two families who reside in Picerne Military Housing were temporarily relocated to a hospitality suite over the weekend due to tree damage to their homes. At one of the houses, which is located on Washington Avenue in Heritage Park, an uprooted tree fell into the house, crushing the chimney, busting out two windows and causing a structural crack to one wall.
"The wife saw the tree falling from her window and ran into the interior of the house yelling for her husband as it hit," Sides said.
No one was injured in either incident.
Within 45 minutes after the storm hit, crews from the Directorate of Public Works worked until Sunday at 8 p.m. to restore power.
Angela French Marcum, communications manager for Picerne, said the company's staff and contractors were out at 1:30 a.m. Saturday to respond to emergency maintenance calls from residents.
By 11:20 a.m. on Monday, all power was restored on post, including all of the housing areas, tenant units and tenant organizations.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the raging storm that drenched the Baltimore-Washington area is a weather system known as a derecho.
Derecho is a Spanish word for straight and refers to the storm's powerful straight-line winds.
Friday night's storm moved from the west side of Chicago and headed east to the mid-Atlantic region at rapid speeds of up to 80 miles per hour at some points. The storm gained momentum the further it moved east. A derecho is unusual for this region, according to NOAA.
Derechoes usually form along the top of a hot air mass and can move at an average of 70 miles per hour. Meteorologists consider this speed to be associated with a Category 1 hurricane.
Fort Meade's public address system, known as the "Big Voice," sounded, informing residents of the storm warning issued by the National Weather Service.
"This shows you that the Big Voice siren is something people should immediately react to once they hear it as it is a critical form of public notification that we don't use except in a true emergency," Sides said.
After the storm hit, Fort Meade Police patrolled blacked-out neighborhoods with flood lights and made reports of vehicles damaged by fallen trees.
At 10:30 p.m. Friday, the Fort Meade Fire Department responded to reports of fallen power lines and arching electrical transformers on power poles. Throughout the weekend, three firefighting units worked to clear roads and blocked off roads where power lines were down.
"Most of the firefighters on shift worked 24 hours straight in response to the storm," Sides said.
Capt. Dave Biddle, a lead firefighter, said about 15 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. power poles were down and that the fire department reported them to BGE for repairs.
"I have a highly trained and proficient crew that can handle anything that comes their way," Biddle said. "The post did very well compared to surrounding jurisdictions off post."
The amount of time it took for power to be restored to the housing communities depended upon whether residents receive their electricity from DPW or BGE.
Fort Meade is undergoing privatization of its electricity by BGE. Frank Hood, the high-voltage operator at DPW, said about 60 percent of the installation is privatized and receives power from the BGE grid. Most of the new housing on post and the Defense Information Systems Agency are powered by this grid.
DPW is responsible for providing electricity to the remaining 40 percent.
By Saturday afternoon, power was restored to most of the housing areas that receive electricity from DPW. Residents who receive power from the BGE grid had their power restored by 11:20 a.m. Monday, Hood said.
Marcum said Picerne worked with the installation and BGE immediately after the storm and throughout the weekend to restore power to the housing areas.
BGE also supplies electricity to two government-operated power substations located near the NSA and on Rock Avenue. Some housing near Argonne Hills Chapel Center and the NSA barracks are powered by the NSA substation, while the substation on Rock Avenue provides power to the rest of the installation.
Residents who live near Argonne Hills had their power restored by Sunday at 6 p.m. Hood said the Rock Avenue substation was not affected by the storm.
"BGE supplies power for the state of Maryland," he said. "When storms like this happen, BGE powers hospitals first and then the largest number of people who are out of power."
The BGE grid on Fort Meade only supplies power to the installation. As a result, a smaller number of people are affected by a power outage on the installation than are residents in other parts of the county or state, Hood said.
DPW and its contractor, Melwood, began to clear roads and grounds immediately after receiving a request from the installation's Emergency Operations Center.
John Houchins, Natural Resources Program manager for the Environmental Division at DPW, said seven trees blocked roads and access on post. But by 7 a.m. Saturday, they were removed.
Several trees also damaged power lines.
More than 75 trees on garrison-maintained land were damaged by the storm. Many of them will either be cut down or pruned, Houchins said. None of these trees caused any property damage.
As of Monday, Melwood and two subcontractors were working on storm damage clean-up.
To help residents without power Sunday, free pizza, chips and bottled water were provided to more than 100 service members and their families by Queen Waddell, center coordinator of Fort Meade's USO of Metropolitan Washington, and four volunteers.
The food, which was donated by Costco at the Arundel Mills Mall and the USO, was distributed at the Freedom Center barracks from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
"The community members consisted of single service members, spouses and children, who were extremely excited and thanked our volunteers, who typically don't work on weekends, except for special events, but recognized the severity of the situation," Waddell said. "I was proud to know that USO-Metro was there to meet the needs of the community."
Service members and their families in need of immediate food assistance can visit the USO-Metro food pantry Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 7007 A Baker St. to receive nonperishable food items.
For added respite, the Post Theater played "Marvel's The Avengers" at three different showtimes Sunday at no charge.
Earlier that day, Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein had asked Jonathan Bright, general manager of the Exchange, if the air-conditioned theater would be available for residents without power.
"It was a place for them to go to see a good movie and take their minds off of what was happening," Bright said. "We take care of the community."
Editor's note: Information for residents, who would like to file a claim for spoiled food, is available on the Fort Meade Live blog at http://ow.ly/bZwPp.
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