Military urges precaution as heat wave worsens in Europe
July 27, 2006
With the heat index topping 100 in parts of Germany this week, U.S. military officials were taking precautions to protect their troops and civilian workers, including the option of sending their folks home for the day.
Army officials are warning employees about the heat wave as it was worsened by increasing humidity. E-mails at several garrisons reminded supervisors to protect those working without air conditioning as thermometers top 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The messages cited Army regulations that recommend moving to cooler working spaces, adjusting schedules to avoid working at the hottest parts of the day and “a liberal leave policy” for employees who have medical conditions exacerbated by the heat.
The advisories stressed, however, that only commanders could grant work release.
Last week, Russell Hall, director of Installation Management Agency-Europe, told Stars and Stripes that garrison officials were starting to monitor conditions as the two-week, Europe-wide heat wave built up. IMA-E officials were not available for comment by the deadline for this story.
The high temperatures led one Air Force command to help personnel beat the heat. As of Monday, airmen at U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters on Ramstein Air Base have had the option of wearing the official Air Force physical training uniform when temperatures reach 90 degrees or above, said Maj. Krista Carlos, USAFE public affairs chief of current operations.
Civilians working at the unit can also wear physical training clothing, but it must be tasteful. If USAFE headquarters staff members conduct business outside headquarters, they need to wear the standard uniform of the day, Carlos said.
However, at the Air Force wing level on Ramstein, similar policies had not been issued for airmen in the 435th Air Base Wing or the 86th Airlift Wing.
Medical staff was advising those working outside to wear sunscreen, seek shade when possible and drink lots of water, said Capt. Chrystal Smith, media relations chief for the 435th Air Base Wing public affairs.
The temperature in Germany topped out at about 93 degrees Fahrenheit. With yesterday’s humidity at 51 percent, the heat index, which combines the effects of heat and humidity, was as high as 102, according to German weather Web sites.
The hottest spot in Europe Wednesday was Spain, 98.6 degrees, near Rota Naval Base. By comparison, it was 118 degrees in Baghdad on Wednesday.
But the Navy in Europe has not enacted a practice to let sailors go home early, an official said.
“In the case of security personnel or with Seabees, for example, who are quite often outside for extended periods of time due to what they do, water is kept on hand, CamelBaks are worn, or a simple work-rest cycle is put in place to avoid heat exhaustion,” said Chief Petty Officer John Musser, a spokesman for Navy Region Europe. “Security personnel, for example, also rotate within their posts.
“It gets hot here at this time of year. These conditions are expected and planned for in order to accomplish our various missions in the region,” Musser said.
And while the summer of 2006 is hot, it hasn’t yet matched 2003 when temperatures in Germany topped out at 104.7 degrees . During that summer three years ago, an estimated 30,000 Europeans died in the heat wave including 15,000 in France. Some scientists consider it Europe’s worst modern natural disaster.
If the torrid summers continue, U.S. officials may be forced to consider building an electrical grid to provide post air conditioning, Hall said last week. Typically at Army posts, only communications and computer server centers have air conditioning.