How This Air Force Base's $5 Billion Reconstruction Will 'Protect Our People' amid Climate Change

Located on a slender peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico, Tyndall Air Force Base was nearly destroyed when Hurricane Michael — a Category 5 monster storm with 162 mph winds — roared through in October 2018, destroying half of its 484 buildings.

With roofs shorn off, trees down and crumpled metal and debris littering the base, “It looked like pictures from World War II carpet bombing raids,” says Col. Jefferson Hawkins, Vice Commander of the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle.

In the aftermath, base leaders were left with the Herculean task of rebuilding Tyndall, one of the largest in the nation and home to 11,000 Airmen and their families.

With a nearly $5 billion budget, the Air Force is aiming to finish the critical installation — where F-22 Raptor fighter pilots are trained and three F35 squadrons will be housed — in three to five years.

“Our intent is for Tyndall to be a model 21st-century, digitally integrated installation of the future,” says Brig. General Patrice Melancon, executive director of the Tyndall Air Force Base Reconstruction Program Management Office, whose team is overseeing the rebuild.

After the catastrophic storm, base leaders made sure the Airmen and their families and civilian personnel were safe. Then they worked quickly to get parts of the damaged base up and running.

Melancon and her team then began rejiggering the base’s master plan and designing what she calls the “base of the future.”

This includes bringing buildings up to High-Velocity Hurricane Zone standards to make them wind-resilient, installing Smart energy sensors to automate temperature, maximizing building space (which lowers the “overall carbon footprint”) and making the installation more energy efficient (and cost effective).

“We’re trying to consolidate functions where that makes sense and we’re trying to optimize the location of functions on the base,” she says.

To avoid flooding, “Any buildings that were in a low lying area, we are moving up onto a ridge above the flood zone,” says Hawkins.

“We’re also doing the simple things like laying in our IT, our communications and our electric nodes, making sure those are all underground and trying to bundle some of those together instead of being disparate across the entire base,” he says.

They’re also making the base even better for its residents. “We really worked to create more walkable, bike-friendly areas on campus,” says Melancon.

She hopes the base will be a model for other installations in the U.S. and worldwide.

“We hope other installations can see what we’ve done and emulate that,” says Melancon. “Mitigating the risk from severe weather is going to protect our people. They are our most important resource.”

They also intend for this to be the last time they have to rebuild the base.

“We want to make sure that if another storm hits Tyndall Air Force Base in the future, that we can just walk back to work a week later and be good to go,” says Hawkins.

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