By Raini W. Brunson
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Operations Center (UOC) began closely tracking Hurricane Isaac, about a week before the storm actually made landfall as its predicted path became clearer. In advance of the storm making landfall, USACE had alerted several of its Planning and Response Teams (PRTs) even prepositioning them on the ground in the areas that were expected to be impacted by Isaac. USACE also supported and coordinated with States’ operations centers and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Regions IV and VI Regional Response Coordination Centers to organize response efforts.
“Due to the track of the storm, we placed 24 of our Planning and Response Teams on alert status from all over the nation for the affects of Isaac beginning in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, and finally the Gulf Coast from Florida to Louisiana,” said Col. Thomas Smith, G3 at USACE Headquarters.
Hurricane Isaac made landfall as a Category One Hurricane in Southeast Louisiana on the evening of August 28, 2012. Localized heavy rains caused widespread flooding along the coasts of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. Since Isaac was a slow-moving storm, remnants were felt in the Mid-Atlantic States and the Ohio Valley as late as September 5, 2012.
As part of the federal government’s unified national response to disasters and emergencies, USACE responds to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA as the primary agency for ESF #3, public works and engineering emergency support function. To aid in the recovery of those areas impacted by Isaac, USACE received 40 Mission Assignments from FEMA totaling approximately $20.2 million. At the height of the response effort, several hundred USACE employees were engaged.
“This was truly an ‘all hazard’ contingency response that reached across an extensive geographic area. Our teams were trained, prepared, and ready. Along with FEMA and the inter-agencies, we anticipate the needs of the States’ Emergency Managers and communities to ensure we have the right plan, the right people, and the right supplies to best serve the public. People count on us; our folks from district, divisions, the 249th,, our HQ, and others contributed mightily and met the myriad of challenges wrought by Isaac,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, director of Contingency Operations and Homeland Security at USACE Headquarters.
In response to FEMA Mission Assignments, USACE deployed Emergency Power Teams to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Commodities, Debris, and Temporary Roofing teams were also deployed to Louisiana. Bottled water was sent to Alabama and Louisiana. USACE deployed Emergency Command and Control Vehicles to assist with onsite communications in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. In Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, USACE deployed coastal engineers to assist in conduct of coastal damage assessments. Other response teams, such as Commodities, Debris, Temporary Roofing, and Temporary Housing, were placed on alert status to support Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Some mission assignments received were for technical assistance. USACE subject matter experts provided guidance in the areas of debris removal, temporary roofing, and un-watering of levees. Other mission assignments, like temporary power, involved the transport and assistance with installation of emergency generators in areas without power.
USACE also provided assistance to the States and to FEMA with flooding issues at several non-federal sites – the Pearl River Lock in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, the Percy Quin Dam on Lake Tangipahoa (Percy Quin State Park) in Mississippi, and Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. Pumps were supplied to the Pearl River Lock and the Percy Quin Dam as well as technical assistance provided for mitigation and repair efforts. USACE also assisted state and Plaquemines Parish leadership with un-watering efforts.
“Our teams are highly trained and credentialed to support the typical missions we perform in support of FEMA and the states,” Smith said. “The willingness of these volunteers to deploy on short notice is integral to the Corps capacity to respond. Thanks to everyone who made the commitment to be available to assist, and to those who actually deployed as part of the response and recovery effort.”
As Isaac moved northwest into Missouri and then northeast across Illinois, its strength weakened from a Category One hurricane to a tropical depression and then further weakened to a post-tropical storm, before finally moving off coast into the Atlantic Ocean. According to the National Hurricane Center, the bulk of the heavy rains were felt through Sunday, September 2, 2012 although there were lingering heavy rains in some areas as late as September 5, 2012.
The majority of USACE PRTs were released by September 8, 2012, although the Temporary Roofing and Infrastructure Inspection Teams stayed on the ground in Louisiana until the following week as well as the coastal engineers who provided technical assistance to FEMA and State teams in Florida and Alabama. The Temporary Roofing Team provided technical assistance to volunteer agencies leading temporary roofing installations, an innovative pilot “Whole Community” program. The USACE Debris Team is expected to remain in Louisiana through at least the end of September providing advice and monitoring debris removal operations.