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Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

Post looks to limit noise impact

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After a training range expansion across the installation that went into the Maneuver Center’s formation, Fort Benning has turned up the volume on its noise-reduction efforts.

The Army is engaged in numerous initiatives to limit unwanted noise where possible while maintaining training requirements, said Ellis Leeder, the post’s noise and environmental management system program manager. Officials are addressing public concerns but stressing the importance of Fort Benning’s mission.

“We’re in the business of defending our country, and a byproduct is operational noise. Operational noise is training the Soldier,” he said. “It’s all about us producing quality Soldiers for today’s war, and today’s war always changes. Our Soldiers have to change right along with it.”

Leeder said the post examines all feedback from surrounding communities and takes necessary steps when appropriate.

While the majority of noise complaints come from areas north of the installation, Fort Benning has adopted numerous measures to curtail its sound signatures, which include airplanes, helicopters, tanks, vehicles and multiple weapons systems.

Large weapons and mortar fire are among the loudest recurring noises on post, he said. “We’re still studying the number of trigger pulls,” he said. “A massive amount of their training is done in simulation before they actually get to a range and fire the real thing.”

Leeder said reducing overall noise is accomplished “cafeteria style,” drawing from multiple alternatives along with live fire to cut the aggregate as a whole.

Mitigation efforts come through land reforestation across post, following post flight-traffic patterns and no-fly zones, and shooting more non-explosive rounds along with blanks than live ammunition on ranges, he said. Large trucks, Humvees and other military vehicles are under speed restrictions, which helps reduce noise. The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s rotations at the National Training Center in California also result in less noise here.

“War is thunderous sometimes, but training doesn’t have to be,” Leeder said.

Common noise originates everywhere, he said. Traffic, 18-wheelers, generators, car stereos, horns and aircraft are just a few common sounds that increase everyday decibels and concussion for everyone.

“It’s a noisy world out there,” he said. “If it’s quiet in your house, you’ll usually hear everything, no matter where it’s coming from. But if you have a TV or stereo on, or some other kind of background noise, you won’t hear a mortar blast from miles away.”

Leeder said Fort Benning uses a Blast Analysis Measurement system that monitors impulse “noise events” from firing operations throughout the installation. It’s designed to detect, measure and report explosions, gunshots and sonic booms. The 24/4 sensors are strategically located — most are near fence lines — and set up to automatically pick up and store noise events.

“Acoustic” background is monitored with a microphone, he said, and “seismic” background with a geophone, an instrument that measures ground motion.

Leeder said the post recently purchased new high-tech noise-detection equipment that can tell the differences between a firecracker, gunshot, truck or thunderstorm and is capable of pinpointing precise locations. It’s expected to be fully operational soon and will further enhance realistic noise measurements.

When any training event is scheduled, noise levels are monitored and then matched against atmospheric conditions, he said. Weather and cloud cover are the biggest factors in the impact of noise traveling off post.

For instance, days with low overcast tend to keep the sound down near the ground, while clear, sunny days with little humidity allow sound to dissipate upward. Water will allow noise to travel with much less resistance. Wind direction also has a bearing on sound. Low cloud ceilings force aircraft to fly lower, further increasing decibels.

“Noise is louder at night because of less interference and less activity outside,” Leeder said. “We have to utilize the space and time we have to train Soldiers, night and day. Obviously, there are more dark hours in the winter. But we have the same training requirements.

“Weather is key. It’s best-management practice for us. If you can use weather to your advantage, it will be beneficial to reducing noise in the entire community.”

FAQs

How can I reduce noise in my house?

Increasing home energy efficiency will lessen noise impacts and levels. The building material used in most houses will reduce outdoor noise 15-25 decibels, depending on whether the windows are open or closed. Greater noise reduction may be achieved by caulking and filling exterior openings, installing sound-insulating windows and doors, and adding thermal insulation to outer walls and ceilings.

How is noise managed?

An installation operational noise management plan is a specific study of the existing and future noise environment on post. Noise contour maps are the plan’s technical heart. These maps show where the noise environment is incompatible with noise-sensitive land uses such as churches, schools and homes. These areas are depicted as “noise zones.”

Keeping an ear on sonic booms, explosions and gunfire:

NoiseWatch, an automated remote noise monitor, has the capability to be placed in remote areas and transmit noise measurements to an evaluation center on Fort Benning. This Blast Analysis Measurement system detects noise levels and accurately quantifies the energy level of impulsive events. It provides usable data that enables training planners to further bolster noise-reduction measures.

BLAM uses remote sensors to measure the acoustic energy over a large geographic area. It also measures average weighted and weighted sound levels to evaluate the impact on humans and wildlife when there are loud noise events. The units are engineered to work at low power consumption, so solar-charged batteries or AC circuits can power them.

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