In recognition of Earth Day, the Military Housing Association (MHA) is bringing attention to severe weather conditions that impact mission critical programs like the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) and the steps leading military housing providers are taking to protect military housing communities.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently made headlines by stating that climate change is a national security issue, noting that the Department of Defense (DoD) can be a “platform for positive change” by “changing how we approach our own carbon footprint.” In support of the DoD’s goals, military housing companies are playing an important role in reducing the Department’s carbon footprint by deploying various technologies and practices to make homes more energy efficient.

The recent severe weather events we’ve experienced, from drought and extreme wildfire seasons to unprecedented winter storms and hurricanes, continue to impact the readiness of the nation’s military installations.

In 2019, the DoD analyzed how the changing climate directly impacted more than 70 Air Force, Army and Navy installations. The events posing the biggest challenges to installations included recurrent flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, and thawing permafrost. The report acknowledged that adverse effects of climate change, such as severe weather events, can disrupt DoD operations through “changes in the manner in which DoD maintains readiness…”

In recent years, severe weather events like hurricanes and historic winter storms in the southern United States have required MHPI partners to commit substantial resources to repair homes and community facilities. These events can cripple installations and displace families from their homes, often while service members are deployed.

For example, Hurricane Laura caused sweeping damage to homes at Port Polk in August 2020, resulting in over 1,700 emergency maintenance requests. More than 2,600 homes sustained damage to their roofs from high winds and falling trees. In response, the Army quickly approved approximately $5 million from the relevant MHPI partnership’s reinvestment account to pay for recovery efforts, Reinvestment account funds are typically used to finance long-term maintenance and investment needs over the 50-year life of the project.

Less than a year later, a rare winter storm hit the southern U.S. and damaged more than 200 homes, displacing more than 15 families in the same Fort Polk community. From Texas to New Jersey, military housing providers worked around the clock to address emergency work orders and provide temporary lodging to residents displaced by the storm. In some cases, our member company teams slept in their offices to field calls from residents as they coordinated efforts to repair busted pipes and other home damage. Severe weather events like these are forecast to continue, and possibly intensify, further disrupting operations and threatening military readiness.

MHA member companies are working with military partners to improve the energy resiliency of installations to reduce the carbon footprint of the Armed Forces. MHPI partnerships are advancing the Department’s energy security goals by investing in renewable energy solutions and following sustainable construction practices whenever possible.

Housing providers have added solar capacity to military neighborhoods, usually in the form of rooftop solar installations. In many cases, MHPI-enabled solar programs account for 25% or more of the power generated for their given communities. These programs not only reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, but enable communities to become more energy secure.

Continuous investments in energy-efficient systems for homes will reduce long-term energy usage on-base. As our member companies continue to build new homes and renovate others, they are installing energy-efficient appliances and systems, such as water heaters, furnaces, and air conditioning units, investments which can also reduce energy costs for some residents. The major projects underway at Fort Rucker, Fort Eustis, Fort Story, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord are just a few examples of how the MHPI facilitates long-term investments to make installations both energy efficient and more energy secure.

On Earth Day, MHA member companies pledge to continue to work with the DoD and respective service branch partners to respond to severe weather events, ensure the safety of residents and mitigate potential damage. Military housing providers will continue to build on the progress they have already made with military partners to reduce the carbon footprint of installations and increase the energy resiliency of the Armed Forces as part of a united effort to combat the vulnerabilities and other risks posed by climate change.