Last October, Hurricane Matthew brought considerable devastation to South Carolina in the form of strong winds and crippling floods. For the military men and women stationed at Joint Base Charleston, this created unique issues. They needed to safely evacuate the military base while also providing help to those in worse conditions. The decision was made to have air force members by-pass emergency shelters and instead find alternative living accommodations, like family, friends, or even hotels. The air force would then reimburse those expenditures, which would end up being a massive undertaking.
Over 3,100 air force members evacuated from Joint Base Charleston, all of them requiring temporary living accommodations. An evacuation and reimbursement of that size could only come from high up on the chain of command. Joint Base Charleston’s Commander, Colonel Robert Lyman, made the call for evacuees to forgo emergency shelters to make room for those more in need. The success of this operation was highly dependent on one thing: preparation.
A year before Hurricane Matthew arrived in South Carolina, Colonel Lyman began implementing training exercises. These exercises were to prepare individuals stationed at Joint Base Charleston in the event of a hurricane. Under the leadership of Colonel Lyman, the finance team prepared for how to best reimburse members. The base also established the Emergency Family Activity Center, where active duty military, family members and dependents could come to take care of any family or emergency related situation. It is there that air force members could file their vouchers in order to get reimbursed.
Part of the preparation for an event like Hurricane Matthew was outlining the rules for reimbursement. According to Colonel Lyman’s orders, the evacuees had to travel 100 to 500 miles away and they had to keep their receipts for proof. If the money wasn’t accounted for on a receipt, they weren’t getting reimbursed for it. With all of the rules in place, as well as the checks and balances to check for fraudulent claims, the fear was that the process could be a lengthy one. According to Tech Sergeant Ryan Debee, those fears were unfounded. “I just filled out a form for the voucher, submitted it, and it only took four or five days and mine got approved and paid out,” Debee says. “So it was really streamlined.”
The process of reimbursing over 3,100 vouchers would cause costs to quickly add up. Fortunately, those costs are worked into the military’s budget. According to Samual P. Shimp, a comptroller squadron commander at Joint Base Charleston, an unspecified pot of money is set up to take care of any contingency operation. “They expect that there’s gonna be storm damage across their bases and this pot of money that they set aside is to cover those damages and any instance that we have to do evacuation and reimbursement.”
So Joint Base Charleston has the funds needed for reimbursement, they have strict guidelines in place, and have nearly completed all of the 3,100 vouchers filed. According to Samual P. Shimp, not a single claim so far appears to be fraudulent. Shimp says the key to success during the reimbursement process was simple: “the leadership across Joint Base Charleston and the teamwork. The advanced preparation was the big thing.”