Keesler AFB More Prepared For Hurricanes

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Keesler Air Force base officials say they've been working the past three years since Katrina to be better prepared for a major hurricane. Base officials say Katrina caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to buildings and equipment. Their approach to storm recovery has been to be more proactive than reactive, making the base less vulnerable to natural disasters.

Right after Katrina, the training mission at Keesler Air Force Base abruptly stopped. That has changed over the past three years. Twenty-six thousand airmen went to Keesler for training in 2007.

These days virtual instructor training means airmen can take some classes without stepping foot in Biloxi. With this technology, even if the base had to be evacuated for a hurricane, airmen could continue learning.

Major Scott Solomon is commander of the 333rd Training Squadron.

"For five hours a day, they get their virtual instructor lead training. For the other 19 hours, they're a productive Air Force member. So what the advantage is in what we're doing is we're not taking those people out of the fight now."

The mammography department is one of several at Keesler Medical Center that had to start from scratch after Katrina. Officials say a basement flood destroyed $10 million in equipment.

"Since then, we've come back full speed by moving our Women's Imaging Center up to the first floor, which actually allows us to provide fully digital mammography services," said Radiology Manager and Technical Sergeant Venton Horrice. "We've also relocated our MRI suite up to the first floor."

Not all equipment could be moved out of the basement, so the hospital put in 29 mitigation doors to hopefully keep any future flood damage to a minimum.

"What we do is we go around and shut off the entire facility," said Lieutenant Zane Holland. "As the water comes in, the pressure comes from the back and seals it from the doors in the inside. Then, in combination with that, we have pumps in certain places in the facility so it keeps the water at bay while the water is rising then go back out again."

Base officials say last year students as far away as Germany took Keesler's virtual classes saving the Air Force $340,000 in travel expenses.