QUANTICO, Va. --
Hurricane Matthew brought damaging Category 2 strength winds, heavy rains and flooding to the Southeastern United States Oct. 7 and 8.
It also brought out the best in teamwork among the communities that call the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco, Ga., home.
Thanks to enacting emergency action plans and coordinating with local emergency management agencies earlier that week, what could have been a worse situation was successfully mitigated as much as possible.
The United States Air Force Special Investigations Academy was well prepared for Matthew's arrival.
"We have an established hurricane evacuation plan we reviewed, plus FLETC has a phenomenal disaster preparedness plan," said AFSIA Commander Col. Garry M. Little. "We were very fortunate because we had only one Criminal Investigator Training Program course with 47 students and no advance courses. The day before the mandatory evacuation we learned FLETC was going to stand down training. We met with our students and explained their options."
Matthew's impact on AFSIA and FLETC courses was significant.
"The FLETC campus closed for almost two weeks. Our students in CITP lost 13 training days," Little said. "The entire training schedule had to be readjusted for 95 agencies. FLETC focused on prioritizing, getting basic courses started first and then working on advanced course scheduling."
The biggest impact was to housing. The three central dormitories, nicknamed the "Taj Mahal," sustained five feet of water on the first floor.
"We lost more than 1,100 billeting rooms," Little said. "To make matters worse, our students were housed in those dorms. Besides losing 13 training days, AFSIA had to cancel or postpone all advanced training on FLETC proper."
Once the storm passed, FLETC team members evaluated the damage and began recovery efforts. FLETC Glynco was used as a staging area for first responders for all of southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida. Georgia Power established a base camp for operations on site for more than 900 workers. Approximately 100 Georgia National and Air National Guardsmen and 35 American Red Cross workers stayed in the empty Glynco dormitories.
Recovery efforts moved forward quickly. Downed trees were removed and the water receded. The biggest challenge has been to get buildings 185, 186 and 187, which comprise the "Taj Mahal," back to livable conditions. Building 185 was hardest hit. It will take at least 60 days to dry out the first floor, make repairs and replace the furnishings. The other floors cannot be used until the first floor is completely repaired.
AFSIA staff members were the first to recover students' property, and recovered as much as they could from each student room.
"Our students were all located in Building 185, spread throughout floors 1-5," Little said. "The quick removal of student property minimized the onset of mold. The FLETC partner organizations also responded quickly to ensure all dangerous areas were made safe.
"It was truly a team effort. Many FLETC members ventured into the local communities to remove trees and assist with clean up," Little said.
The Air Force legal community and OSI headquarters quickly provided AFSIA students and staff the ability to file claims for damaged property and financial entitlements for travel and hotel expenses for those who evacuated.
"Our students were able to see firsthand how OSI takes care of each other as a family," Little said. "When the students finally returned, they were surprised, grateful, and in many cases personally thanked the AFSIA staff for taking care of their personal possessions.
"Any minor setbacks in training should be overshadowed by the fact that no one from FLETC or AFSIA was killed or injured," Little emphasized. "All the precautions worked, and along with some westerly winds kept the brunt of Hurricane Matthew from having a more devastating effect."