OKLAHOMA CITY - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees were among the first on the scene following the May 2013 tornado outbreak in Oklahoma.
Members of the USACE Emergency Support Function III deployed to the scene hours after destructive tornadoes ripped through several areas in the state, with the most extensive damage in the cities of Shawnee, Moore and El Reno.
The USACE ESF3 cadre is coordinated out of USACE headquarters at the request of FEMA in disaster situations where the damage and debris are such that debris management assistance in support of the National Response Framework is necessary.
The ESF3 provides assistance to local governments in developing debris removal contracts and assisting with environmental issues as part of the FEMA Region VI disaster response.
At the on-set of the disaster, Tulsa District Commander Col. Michael Teague declared an Emergency Situation for the district and the Emergency Operations Center activated to round-the-clock operations. The ESF3 cadre stood ready to provide assistance in any way necessary.
Tulsa District Emergency Management Specialist Kerri Stark deployed to Oklahoma City as soon as the roads opened, arriving in the area by 7 p.m., May 20. Stark acted as USACE liaison to the State and local governments at first, and then transitioned to ESF3 Assistant Team Leader when the cadre activated. Greg Deleon-Guerrero acted as Team Leader during the first week of the response. The ESF3 team is located at the Joint Field Office in Oklahoma City and is comprised of Stark and nine Debris Subject Matter Experts.
In the EOC at the District Headquarters, the Incident Management Team met several times per day to follow the status of the search and rescue mission and subsequent recovery mission. Col. Teague traveled to the disaster scene and met with local, state, and federal officials in the State EOC, while Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Don Nestor and District Emergency Manager William Smiley monitored the emergency at the District Office. Ten days after the tornado outbreak, the Tulsa District Commander declared an end to the Emergency Situation and the EOC returned to normal operating hours.
The USACE ESF3 mission for the 2013 Oklahoma Tornado outbreak is one of debris management assistance and technical advice. The cadre provides assistance on contract issues and the development of debris management strategy, with the local, state and federal governments handling the debris removal. The team will also provide feedback to FEMA on the Sandy Recovery Act Alternative Procedures for Public Assistance Pilot Program in use as part of this mission.
Director of Contingency Operations and Office of Homeland Security, Headquarters, USACE, Karen Durham-Aguilera, P.E., Southwestern Division Commander Brig. Gen. Thomas Kula, Col. Teague, Disaster Program Manager William Irwin, and SWD Chief of Operations and Readiness Division Anthony Semento visited the JFO May 31 to meet with FEMA and State Emergency Management officials and to see damaged areas. Kula, Teague, and Semento left the city before severe weather and tornadoes struck that evening, but Durham-Aguilera, Irwin and the ESF3 team sheltered in place at the JFO as the storm passed over. None of them was injured.
The ESF3 team will remain at the JFO to provide oversight of the debris mission and the debris SMEs will continue to offer technical advice until the mission is complete.
The USACE has ESF teams across the nation that stand ready to deploy within hours of a disaster at the request of FEMA as part of the National Response Framework. Members of the teams undergo extensive initial training for certification to serve as first responders.