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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    How Naval Submarine Base New London prepares for storms and flooding

    Emergency Management Officer John Varone shows the new flood gate tidal surge protection system at Building 40 of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on March 15, 2023. The large panels, right, slide into metal slots of the concrete pillars, left. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Chief Hull Maintenance Technician Donald Myers stands in the doorway of a first floor office that is elevated above ground level to avoid water damage at Port Operations Building 1 at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Thursday, March 15, 2023. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The new Pier 32 at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, shown on March 15, 2023. The electrical system is raised higher than the older piers, which could be damaged if submerged. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Pier 8, shown Thursday, March 15, 2023, at Naval Submarine Base in Groton, is an example of the previous design, which would be subject to flooding. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Flood mitigation infrastructure Thursday, March 15, 2023, at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Editor’s Note: To read more Earth Day-related stories, read the next edition of More than a Month coming out on Sunday, April 16.

    Groton ― In many situations, the answer for preventing damage from storm surges is to build further from the shoreline or elevate structures.

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    But for a Navy installation, it’s not so simple.

    And at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Emergency Management Officer John Varone said a top concern is not only protecting submarines and facilities that need to be near the water, but also making sure personnel can perform their jobs through or after some type of event.

    Tidal influx at the waterfront “can significantly impact the subs that are moored here,” base spokesperson Chris Zendan said. “Our concern is: What piers are the boats moored at? Do they need to move to a higher pier? Or for hurricanes, do we need to send them to sea?”

    Ahead of Hurricane Irene in 2011, the base sent four submarines with 130 sailors each out to sea, traveling 10 hours from Groton. This was the first time that happened since the 1980s, and then-Commanding Officer Capt. Marc W. Denno said he was worried about something breaking free, hitting the subs and damaging the hulls. The subs didn’t leave the base for Hurricane Sandy.

    As for the alternative of moving a sub to a higher pier, Varone explained the base designates certain piers ― such as the newest one, Pier 32 ― as heavy weather mooring piers, because they are sturdier and elevated higher.

    He feels fortunate that, unlike at Naval Station Norfolk, the topography of Naval Submarine Base New London means a lot of operations can take place uphill from the waterfront. Providence and Worcester Railroad tracks bisect the base, separating what’s called “Lower Base” by the water from “Upper Base.” Varone’s real concerns from flooding are along the tracks.

    Open since 2011, the newest structure on Lower Base is the Port Operations Building, which includes multiple flood mitigation measures.

    Chief Hull Maintenance Technician Donald Myers showcased the heavy equipment that is on wheels ― such as engines that are being worked on, and blowers to cool down spaces in the summer ― so it can be moved ahead of a storm. Electrical fixtures are a few feet off the ground in the building, and the office space is built up half a floor, since it contains computers.

    Varone said after May 1 each year, the commanding officer of the base puts the base in TCCOR 5, a lower level of Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness. It means Varone has to be able to get the base hurricane ready 96 hours before possible arrival of high winds, which involves moving the heavy equipment on wheels from the Port Operations Building to higher levels on base.

    The base goes into a higher stage as a storm approaches. The base’s movement into TCCOR 3 ahead of Tropical Storm Henri in 2021, meaning destructive winds were possible within 48 hours, involved increasing submarine mooring to heavy weather mooring, installing flood gates in front of some doors, and doubling up lines on small boats.

    Varone said since he joined the base in 2018, he’s gone from needing 11,000 sandbags to 3,000, and most of them are for runoff rather than storm surges. This is good because setting up sandbags is labor intensive, and they take up a lot of space.

    The Day archives show that sailors piled about 22,000 sandbags in front of building doors on Lower Base before Hurricane Irene and 8,000 ahead of Hurricane Sandy.

    The Port Operations Building is not the only one on the waterfront, and other buildings contain a mix of newer and older floodgates. Varone said the newer floodgate is not as heavy and is easier on manpower. Zendan said the base does a yearly exercise before hurricane season in which sailors put up the floodgates.

    “The storms are getting bigger, more frequent and more intense, so we have to be ready for those,” Varone said. He noted that climate change has resulted in a larger area where tropical storms can initiate and gain energy, and that warmer water means less loss of energy for the storm.

    But Varone also noted that because of Montauk Point and Fishers Island, southeastern Connecticut is more protected than Rhode Island. The issue, though, is “stacking,” when tides come in with the storm surge but can’t get out. This happened with Hurricane Sandy.

    In the meantime, personnel in the emergency operations center ― located on Upper Base ― monitor the data platform Pivotal Weather, National Weather Service, and local TV stations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also makes short-term tide predictions using its monitor at State Pier. And there’s a lot of collaboration with other agencies.

    “Emergency management, I would say it’s acquired skill sets,” Varone said, “so if a local organization has a best practice, then I’m going to to acquire it from them.”


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