In the nearly 15 years that I have been a consultant, there have been many projects to come across my desk — corporate offices, schools, high-end hotels and residences, museums, and unnamed government facilities. However, the strangest and most interesting was probably the Department of State Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC). This is where I learned that guns go boom, and other unexpected lessons.

This project started out in 2010 as a master plan for a proposed facility to train Diplomatic Security Operatives (if the phrase is unfamiliar to you, these are the people that protect our embassies overseas). Among other potentially noisy items within the campus plan were multiple firing ranges, an ordinance range, driving tracks that would also contain ordinance, and a mock village. As the acoustical consultant, our job was to determine just how noisy. Don’t worry — nothing I am saying is classified. It is all public knowledge.

Initially the government was considering multiple sites for this project, and they eventually narrowed it down to one in Ruthsburg MD. If you have never been there (and I would wager that you have not), this sleepy little town is in the middle of farm country on Maryland’s eastern shore. To say the residents were not excited about a large training facility as their new neighbor would be an understatement.

Our assignment was to prepare and present information about this training center to the local community. As you can imagine, noise was a hot button issue. To prepare, we had to collect data. This was the fun part — we were allowed access to multiple firing ranges to measure noise levels of various caliber weapons, plus the ordinance range to measure explosions.

During this visit, two of my coworkers and I were dropped in a field at varying distances from the ordinance range. As the escort is driving away he casually mentioned that unexploded ordinances were in the area, and not to move from the spot. Yikes! The good news is no acousticians were harmed in the process.

Once we gathered all of our data, we compiled it into the acoustical modeling program SoundPLAN, and then ran various scenarios to create noise maps for a 24 hour period. We were also able to consider various ways to mitigate the noise, including berms, baffles for the firing ranges, etc.

These options could be entered into the model to devise the most effective mitigation strategies (example above). The red line indicates a daily average noise level of 65 dBA, which is similar to ambient noise levels measured on site. The noise map includes all potential activities on site (firing ranges, cars on a driving track, ordinance range), but they are time-averaged over the course of the day. The louder events tended to be short duration, so they had less impact on the overall noise levels.

Next, we had to present our findings to the townsfolk. The government set up two evening town hall meetings to address everyone’s concerns. Our team broke into groups so people could first have one-on-one conversations with us. Then we all met in the local high school auditorium for a presentation and Q&A.

At this time in our political past, the term “pork barrel spending” was being used quite frequently. The auditorium was filled with about 500 concerned community members, some carrying large pig-shaped balloons. I drew the short straw and stepped forward to answer any noise-related questions to this pig-holding mob. Someone handed me the mic, and to this day, I do not remember what questions I was asked. But I did my best, and the they seemed satisfied with my responses.

And in the end, the government decided that Ruthsburg was not an appropriate location, and eventual changes in administration put the project on hold. Since then, it has found a better location.

I learned a number of things from that ordeal, some of which have influenced my career significantly.
• Guns and ordinances go boom, and it is very difficult to control noise propagation from these events.
• If given enough time and resources, you can learn a great deal about a subject you never considered before — in my case, high noise events and their effect on overall daily noise levels.
• Uniting a community around a common goal can yield big results. It was powerful to see neighbors come together.
• Speaking in front of 500 disgruntled pig-carrying residents is nerve wracking, but after that, there is nothing in a project meeting that can compare – it’s a great confidence booster!

Senior Consultant Julie Fischer INCE, LEED AP BD+C joined The Sextant Group’s Washington DC office in 2017. Her project experience across the US includes Higher Education, Courtrooms, Government, Healthcare, Hospitality, Museums, Historic Renovation, Science & Research, Libraries, and Corporate facilities. Contact Julie at JFischer@TheSextantGroup.com, or at 202.479.2001 x324.