Emergency Response

Published Dec. 20, 2011

USACE Disaster Response
In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is prepared and ready to respond as part of the federal government’s unified national response to disasters and emergencies.  In any disaster, USACE’s top priorities are:

  • Save lives and protect property;
  • Support immediate emergency response priorities for USACE, DoD, FEMA and the Federal Government.

During natural disasters and other emergencies, USACE can respond under its own authority, Public Law 84-99; as a component of the Department of Defense; and as the designated lead agency in support of FEMA for Emergency Support Function Number 3, Public Works and Engineering (ESF #3.) 

Public Law 84-99 (Section 5 of the Flood Control Act of 1941)(PL 84-99)
PL 84-99 is the USACE Emergency Management authority.  Under PL 84-99, USACE may undertake the following:

  • Disaster Preparedness. Disaster Preparedness consists of functions required to ensure that USACE activities are ready to respond to a broad range of disasters and emergencies.  It includes coordination, planning, training, and exercises with key local, state, Tribal and Federal stakeholders/partners under USACE statutory authorities and in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  It provides for the purchase and stockpiling of critical supplies and equipment for flood fighting efforts.  Levees and other flood risk management projects are inspected to identify issues that may keep the project from providing reliable flood risk management reduction during the next flood or coastal storm.
  • Emergency Operations.  Under Emergency Operations, USACE responds to flood and storm-related disasters.  USACE will activate its Emergency Operations Centers to command and control the operation; provide liaisons to FEMA, States, Tribes, and local governments; provide technical assistance and direct assistance for flood fighting; and conduct rescue operations.  Technical assistance includes advice on flood fighting methods and techniques, inundation mapping, flood modeling, and historical data.  Direct assistance includes the provision of sandbags, pumps, and other types of flood fight materials, and emergency contracting for raising and stabilizing threatened flood risk management projects. Post Flood Response is a special authority intended to cover the gap (of up to 10 days) between the end of a disaster and the issuance of a presidential disaster declaration under FEMA Stafford Act authority, and can include actions to clear transportation routes, restore public transportation and critical public facilities, clear blocked water courses, and provide technical assistance. (Note:  Due to recent amendments to the Stafford Act that allow FEMA to respond more quickly, Post Flood Response is rarely used any more.)
  • The Rehabilitation Program.  The Rehabilitation Program provides for the inspection (during the Preparedness phase) and rehabilitation of Federal and non-Federal flood risk management projects damaged or destroyed by floods and coastal storms.  There are approximately 9500 miles of levees in the Rehabilitation Program, and all projects must meet certain standards in order to be eligible for rehabilitation assistance.
  • The Restoration Program.  The Restoration Program provides for the inspection (during the Preparedness phase) and restoration of Federal Coastal Storm Damage Reduction projects damaged or destroyed by floods and coastal storms.  All projects must meet certain standards in order to be eligible for restoration assistance.
  • Advance Measures.  Advance Measures assistance may be provided in order to prevent or reduce damages when there is an imminent threat of unusual flooding.  Technical Assistance may be provided when there is a significant potential that an imminent threat of unusual flooding will develop, and is provided to Tribes and States to help them prepare for the threat.  Advance Measures projects are temporary projects that provide measures necessary to prevent or reduce impacts of floods that (1) pose a significant threat to life and/or improved property, and (2) are beyond the capability of Tribe/State/local interests to perform in a timely manner.  Advance Measures projects must be engineeringly feasible and capable of being constructed in time to meet the anticipated threat.
  • Drought Assistance.  Drought Assistance may be provided to drought distressed areas.  Drought assistance includes technical assistance, well drilling in limited circumstances, and transportation (but not purchase) of water to drought distressed areas to make up for inadequate supplies of water.
  • Emergency Water Assistance Due to Contaminated Water Source.  Emergency Water Assistance may be provided when a locality is confronted with a source of contaminated water causing or likely to cause a substantial threat to the public health and welfare of the local inhabitants.  Emergency Water Assistance includes technical assistance, purchase of water, transport of water to local water points, delivery of bulk or bottled water to community-level distribution points, temporary connection of a new water supply to the existing distribution system, installation of temporary filtration

Support to the Department of Defense and other Federal Agencies
Every year, from among its approximately 35,000 military and civilian personnel, which includes more than 50 specially-trained response teams, USACE sends hundreds of people to respond to disasters around the world, either as part of the DoD response or upon the direction of the Department of State.  Because of its unique mission, USACE has many subject matter experts in areas such as Emergency Management, Flood Risk Management, landslides, construction, Urban Search and Rescue, oceanography, hydrology and hydraulics, and engineering fields that respond when needed.  Notable recent responses include the Haiti earthquake and the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.

Emergency Support Function #3 – Engineering and Public Works
USACE assists the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA by coordinating and organizing public works and engineering-related support as the agent for the Department of Defense.  Typical ESF 3 assistance provided by the Corps of Engineers includes the following:

  • Needs Assessments: Conduct damage/needs assessments.
  • Temporary Power: Provision of emergency power (generators) to public facilities.
  • Temporary Roofing: Provision and installation of "Blue Tarps" to damaged houses and public buildings that have suffered roof damage and are subject to additional damage from wind and rain.  Restoring the roof allows the home or building to continue to be used until a permanent repair can be made without displacing the occupants.
  • Debris Management: Emergency debris clearance and removal and disposal management of debris from public property.
  • Emergency Infrastructure Assessments: Assessments of damaged streets, bridges, ports, waterways, airfields and other facilities necessary for emergency access to disaster victims.
  • Temporary Housing.  Technical assistance to FEMA for temporary housing in support of displaced people in the impacted area, up to complete design, installation, and turnover to temporary housing facilities.
  • Critical Public Facility Restorations: Emergency restoration of critical public facilities (including temporary restoration of water supplies and wastewater treatment systems).
  • Demolition / Structural Stabilization: Emergency demolition or stabilization of damaged structures and facilities.
  • Technical Assistance: Technical assistance including inspection of private residential structures and commercial structures.

USACE uses pre-awarded contracts that can be quickly activated for missions such as temporary roofing, temporary power and debris management.

The Corps of Engineers also supports all other Emergency Support Functions conducted under the Stafford Act. 

All USACE emergency response work is done in concert with other federal agencies, states and local governments, contractors, and affected industries working together as ONE TEAM.