In late August, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers emergency response personnel deployed to various states in the eastern U.S. to help with response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Irene left a path of destruction from North Carolina to Vermont.
Because of one of the biggest response challenges in the aftermath of Irene was widespread power loss, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assigned USACE the mission to deploy experienced teams and resources to provide temporary emergency power to critical facilities like water treatment plants, hospitals, police stations, fire stations and shelters. This was the first time that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deployed multiple power teams and their resources to multiple states simultaneously.
“With the temporary power mission, what is most important for success is deploying rapidly to make a difference for the local community affected most by the disaster,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, Director of Contingency Operations and Homeland Security. “If we can quickly install a generator to get a water treatment plant up and running again, we’re going to make huge impact on that community. Or if we can replace a faulty generator at a hospital with one that works, we’ll not only prevent relocating patients, we may also save lives.”
State emergency management officials often call upon FEMA and USACE to provide experienced teams, equipment and other resources to augment emergency temporary power when local resources are exceeded following a disaster.
The mission is generally managed by specially trained temporary power planning and response teams (PRT) that oversee the overall mission and contracts and relations with local partners, which is crucial in any emergency response situation.
The PRT works closely with the Soldiers of the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power). The prime power Soldiers primarily make initial facility assessments to determine the generator and supply requirements. The generators are usually supplied by FEMA. The actual installation of a generator is often handled by contractors managed by the PRT. However, the 249th Soldiers can also install generators if the situation requires.
After Hurricane Irene passed through, USACE deployed emergency power teams and Soldiers to various states from North Carolina to Vermont where they worked closely with local emergency management officials. Prime power Soldiers deployed to five different states at once, and three of the Corps’ seven temporary power PRTs activated and deployed to the East Coast, ready to act quickly to needs following Irene’s landfall. The teams were from Philadelphia District, Memphis District and Walla Walla District.
Although the emergency did not require installing as many temporary generators as a larger event might have, it did prove that training exercises and previous real-world experience made the Corps’ cadre of temporary emergency power personnel ready and able to quickly respond in several states simultaneously.
“Fortunately, Hurricane Irene did not make landfall as a major hurricane, and local power crews were able to rapidly restore power to many of the impacted customers,” said Spencer Schargorodski, emergency management specialist. “Relatively few generators were required for critical facilities during this disaster, but this response demonstrated that USACE and FEMA can rapidly deploy multiple temporary power teams, generators and other resources to provide life-saving and life-sustaining support to multiple states that could potentially be impacted by a major disaster in the future.”
FEMA and Corps officials say they were pleased with the smooth, multi-state deployment of temporary assets to the eastern U.S. from across the country during Irene response operations, and what it means when the mission is activated on a large scale again in the future wherever a disaster might strike.
“Hurricane Irene demonstrated the FEMA/USACE commitment to anticipate requirements and rapidly deploy generators and temporary power teams to have these resources in place even before landfall,” said Eric Smith, assistant administrator of FEMA’s Logistics Management Directorate. “This was possible because of the coordinated efforts of the dedicated professionals from both the Corps and FEMA that not only know their jobs, but who are also energized by the opportunity to make a big difference for people who need disaster relief.”