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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — A tree branch tore through a power line here Wednesday morning, causing a power outage that deployed tire-shredders at the Falcon Gate.

Two cars, one registered to a Japanese person, the other an American, drove over the spiky strip before gate guards deactivated the force-protection device.

Maj. Monte Harner, Operations Flight commander, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron, said gate security barriers are designed to work even if the rest of the base is without power. But they shouldn’t activate automatically or accidentally, he said. A fail-safe relay mechanism is to alert gate guards of the power outage and allow them to activate the devices, he said.

“It puts the human element in there: ‘Is this a real emergency or not?’”

The tire-shredder “relay may have malfunctioned,” Harner said. “The equipment is under warranty; we’re having the contractor come to check that out.”

Misawa’s Falcon, Friendship and Levitow gates received nearly $2 million in force-protection upgrades, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron officials said in May 2004.

“The good news is it works,” Harner said. “The bad news is it wasn’t an official test.”

Motorists should look for a red warning light that’s on when the tire-shredders are operating, said 1st Lt. James Lage, a base spokesman. “People need to be vigilant when they’re coming through the gate.”

Base officials did not know Wednesday whether the two motorists who had their tires destroyed would be reimbursed. The base claims office is handling the American driver’s damage. Base officials were unaware of how the Japanese driver’s damages would be handled.

The initial power outage Wednesday occurred at 6:30 a.m. Fourteen buildings, including the officer and enlisted clubs and Transportation Management Office, lost power for about an hour. The outage also caused a surge that temporarily shut off electricity to seven other buildings, including Potter Fitness Center, Mokuteki Community Center, the bowling alley and the library, Harner said. Those lines were repaired and power restored by 8:30 a.m.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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