In a typical year, more than 100,000 troops cycle through Fort A.P. Hill to train with small arms, aircraft, explosives, mortars, artillery and the like.
And over a year’s time, troops training there fire between 4 million and 6 million munitions of all types.
All that training—some of which lasts into the wee hours—creates noise and brings inevitable complaints from neighbors.
Though complaints are down in recent years, officials say, the Army post is using the latest technology to trim the number of calls from unhappy neighbors. That’s a growing concern, particularly in neighboring Spotsylvania County, where growth is crowding the once-rural post.
With funding from the Army’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champagne, Ill., the fort recently purchased and installed eight high-tech noise monitors within the 76,000-acre installation that straddles Caroline and Essex counties.
“We’ve always been interested in upgrading ... and trying to keep an eye on what’s on the horizon,” said Sergio Sergi, an environmental specialist at A.P. Hill.
The previous noise-monitoring system was installed more than a dozen years ago. Nine stations, including one outside the base, were equipped with a single microphone connected to a computer that fed data by radio frequency to Sergi’s office.
But there were big limitations, he said.
“Radio frequency is terrible to communicate long distances through trees. And since it had only one microphone, it was really hard figuring out the noise,” whether it was wind, small-arms fire, a blast or an aircraft.
Sergi had to sift through the data himself, which delayed a response when someone called to complain.
Problems with the old system also included communicating back to the home station in Sergi’s office and the reliability of the data.
“What they wanted to do was get rid of some of those shortcomings,” Sergi said, “and to try to filter out all the noise you don’t care about.”
Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Stewart, Ga., were the first military installations to get the advanced noise monitors produced by Applied Physical Sciences Corp. in Groton, Conn.
Fort A.P. Hill’s eight monitors went online about two weeks ago. A prototype was first tested at Fort Drum, N.Y.; monitors tested at Fort Sill were transferred to Fort A.P. Hill.
Bob Hunte, a senior analyst with Applied Physical Sciences, said the system has been well-received and that a fourth installation, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma, has expressed interest.
“It is something that we think has got a lot of potential, and is much improved over what they had previously,” Hunte said Tuesday.
“They can not only record noise events, but classify them as to type, triangulate between multiple monitors and identify where the noise is coming from.”
When a complaint comes in, those monitoring the system can scroll through a saved history to see what noise correlated with the time of a complaint and its location, Hunte said.
The Noise Bearing and Amplitude Measurement and Analysis System, or BAMAS,cq has four microphones and a solar panel to charge a battery controlling the computer and its algorithm programs. The stations relay data over a Verizon wireless network.
Fort A.P. Hill spokesman Bob McElroy, who fields noise calls from neighbors, said that with the old system, a call would come in, he would check with ranges to see what training was underway, call Sergi for details, then call the person back.
“Now, while I’m talking to them, I can pull it up on my desktop and see where the noise is coming from,” McElroy said.
The data can also be viewed on a cellphone.
There were fewer than a dozen noise complaints last year, but numbers can vary according to ever-changing training requirements.
When people do call in with complaints, Sergi said, “Nobody wants to wait hours and hours for a response, hoping I’m at my desk. This is a leaps-and-bounds improvement in technology.”
The smarter system can filter out wind noise and direction, and can tell the difference between a blast, small arms fire or thunder, for example. The information is processed and sent to a server, where it can be accessed by Sergi and McElroy.
They can view noise vectors, or direction, and unique noise signatures, such as artillery or small-arms fire. A blast, for example, shows up on Sergi’s computer screen “as a very characteristic rise and quick depression of atmosphere, and back to normal.” He can also listen to recorded audio of the noise.
The system has a threshold of around 95 decibels. That’s comparable to the sound of a jackhammer at 50 feet.
It can be loud on and around Fort A.P. Hill at times. Recently, A–10 jets were training on post bombing ranges. Marine Osprey aircraft routinely fly in pairs from Marine Corps Base Quantico, along the Rappahannock River, into the fort.
In April 2009, some residents in the Portobago Bay subdivision off U.S. 17 in northern Caroline County complained about training noise and vibration intense enough to pop nails in drywall and cause cracks along ceilings and walls.
In April 2012, a Caroline County couple living on a farm on the southeastern border of the base said overflights by aircraft, vehicle traffic on narrow roads and noise were ongoing problems.
The new system, officials say, will provide more accurate and timely data, which can improve base training procedures and schedules.
Even so, there are nuances.
“Weather is the biggest culprit to noise,” Sergi said. “You can have artillery shooting on a beautiful high-pressure day with no wind, and nobody calls.”
Then on the next day, using the same gun, “with a low-pressure system, a westerly wind blowing off the base and a change in temperature,” noise can be reflected and much louder, he said.
“We’re doing a much better job than we did seven or eight years ago. We’ve gone about as far as we can” with the new system, Sergi said, which complements ongoing noise modeling, active monitoring and noise-management programs.
Still, Sergi says, when people call, “We welcome that feedback. We try our best by having tools like this.”
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
NEWS ABOUT NOISE
Fort A.P. Hill posts information about noise and training activities that may impact neighbors on its website, army.mil/aphill; on Facebook at facebook.com/FtAPHill, and on Twitter at twitter.com/fort_aphill. Also check on Caroline County’s notification system, Caroline Alert. Sign up at carolinealert.com.
Call the post’s public affairs office at 804/633-8324 with questions or concerns or to file a noise report.