By T.J. Fichera
PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Yes, you read that correctly. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, referred to as the "Headwaters District," which encompasses 26,000 square land-locked miles among western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, southwest New York, both panhandles of West Virginia and a small piece of western Maryland, is readying for hurricane season.
Although the district is primarily focused on inland navigation, flood damage reduction, environmental enhancements and regulatory functions, Pittsburgh is the lead district for mobilization and execution of all emergency power missions tasked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support U.S. states and territories after disasters.
Each year, the district's Emergency Management staff participates in pre-hurricane landfall planning discussions with FEMA, supported states, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Headquarters and the Dept. of Energy to "right-size" the emergency power response. Each mobilization typically includes one of our seven emergency power Planning and Response Teams (PRT), soldiers from the 249th Engineer Battalion, and personnel and equipment from one of our two Advance Contract Initiative (ACI) contractors, operating from one of the Corps' Deployable Tactical Operating System (DTOS) communications unit.
As tasked by USACE's "All Hazards OPORD" (Operations Order), the Pittsburgh District executes all initial power missions from a FEMA tasker, and essentially mobilizes each of these assets to staging areas throughout the forecasted impacted states. The district's seamless and efficient mobilization of assets into affected areas prior to hurricane landfall ensures the teams can install generators at critical public facilities until commercial power systems can be restored, initially saving life, and then assist in restoring normalcy to impacted residents and businesses.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasted a near-normal 2012 hurricane season. For the entire six-month season, which begins June 1, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center said there's a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms (with top winds of 39 mph or higher). Of these, four to eight will strengthen to a hurricane (with top winds of 74 mph or higher) and one to three of those will become major hurricanes (with top winds of 111 mph or higher, ranking Category 3, 4 or 5).
With this forecast, and based on previous disaster response activities, the Corps anticipates and plans for anywhere from three to six hurricanes from which FEMA may issue Emergency Mission Assignments tasking USACE to support our state partners. However, just one hurricane could require the mobilization of one to six different power response teams. For Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, we mobilized each of our seven Emergency Power PRT's and ACI assets in six states and four FEMA Regions.
Since 2007, the Pittsburgh District has supported more than 25 named events with 51 emergency power mission assignments, initially valued at more than $30 million, to ensure critical public facilities have power after disasters.
Although the Pittsburgh District and USACE are preparing for hurricane season, our emergency power response is for all hazards, as we have responded to ice storms, flooding, fires, earthquakes, tornados and hurricanes.