Alabama August: Residents, cyclists beware of heat stress, increased road traffic|
Commentary by Lt. Col. Geoffrey Gibbs
Chief of Safety, 42nd Air Base Wing
8/9/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- When you've been at Maxwell as long as I have, you start noticing trends and patterns. I'm not originally from here, and I know some people not from Alabama who would prefer to be elsewhere. I'm not one of them, at least, not anymore. I've learned to appreciate much of the Southern culture, the green, rolling hills, and, for the most part, the friendly and slower pace of life in general.
Still, if there's one thing I have yet to learn to enjoy, it's the Alabama August.
At first, it was just the sweltering August heat. Though my family hails from the south, I was raised in northern climes. When I first got here, the hot, muggy, stifling air and pounding sun were nearly overwhelming. I quickly learned to appreciate that wonderful invention we call air conditioning. Over the years, I've become acclimated to the heat ... but never really liking it. Amazingly, I have good friends from Alabama who welcome it. I do not. My point to you is the heat takes time to get used to. Heat-related injuries like heat stress, cramping and sun burns hit a lot faster during this time frame. Stay on top of your hydration, ease up on your workouts and try to exercise when the sun and the heat are less intense. Watch your work and rest cycles and be on the lookout for heat-related effects in others.
But it's not just about the heat. August in Alabama brings about a number of other variables that we each need to take into account.
Schools are starting, which means more kids will be out in the roadway environment, more parents will be on the road dropping off kids, more newly licensed teenagers will be driving to school during rush hour traffic and road congestion will increase, so be aware of the increased mishap potential.
For Maxwell, it's not just the Maxwell Elementary/Middle School that is starting but also Air War College and Air Command and Staff College, which attract a substantial number of personnel unfamiliar with the Maxwell and Montgomery environments and requirements.
One requirement, for example, is that runners and cyclists cannot wear listening devices like earbuds while running or riding in the roadway environment. They can only wear them on closed tracks such as the Gunter Bowl, Fisk Park, the "Paperclip" or the Officer Training School track. The only exception is on River Road or on the west side of March Road between the Kelly Street gate and the golf course club house, where only one earbud is permitted. This exception specifically applies to the designated River Road running lane located between clearly marked signs posted near the Kelly Street gate and the golf course club house. Everywhere else, on any road at Maxwell or Gunter, listening devices are not permitted. As a side note, sidewalks on base are not considered roadway environments.
Similarly, though the state of Alabama may currently allow the use of cellphones without hands-free devices, this only applies to off base and only to adults. If you're under 18 and have restrictions on your license (usually under six months of driving), you can't talk and drive at all. On base, it's prohibited for everyone unless you have a hands-free device. Texting while driving is a primary offense for everyone, both on and off base.
Distracted driving in general is a primary concern, particularly with new, inexperienced drivers on the road. These drivers could impact inattentive runners or cyclists in the roadway, so runners should pay special attention to the listening device restriction in the roadway environment.
Finally, and speaking of distractions and inattention, every other August or so for Maxwell tends to be the last month of preparation prior to a major inspection. Everyone is working feverishly to apply the final touches, close any remaining discrepancy, ensure all proper documentation is in place, and all share a single focus, to excel. I have little doubt we will do exceptionally well, but, from a human factors standpoint, we need to remain vigilant and on guard against task saturation, overexertion and channelized attention. Remember to take some time for yourself, to exercise, de-stress and re-energize, and for family and friends, to relax, enjoy yourself and have fun safely so you can remain alert and ready for all that the Alabama August might throw your way.