There is a recurring theme often heard among experts who train others to respond during emergency situations. The adage states, “An emergency is not the time to be trading business cards.” In other words, when the emergency is underway, you’d better already have established contacts you can reach out to and make things happen.
Nick Lesourd, natural disaster program manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District echoed that motto at a recent flood fight equipment seminar and drill held with several partner agencies at the district’s Bryte Yard warehouse in Sacramento.
“Now is the time to get to know each other, make contacts with other agencies and establish solid working relationships,” said Lesourd. “This will help us be ready when there is an emergency.”
This particular flood fight training focused on two specific areas. One is to ensure that district flood fighters and partner agencies such as Silver Jackets, Department of Water Resources, and City of Sacramento know the procedures for obtaining equipment, who to reach, and how to reach them. The other focus is ensuring that Corps and partner agencies know how to properly use the equipment that is available to them, such as super-sacks, Port-A-Dams, gabion baskets, and the district’s latest flood fight tool – a sandbagging machine.
With approximately 30 people from various agencies in attendance, Lesourd split the group into two teams. While one team practiced properly sandbagging a “boil” or “leak in a levee,” the other team learned how quickly they can now pack the back of a pickup truck full of sandbags using the district’s newest tool.
The machine works when an excavator or front loader dumps sand into a large steel container on top of the machine. A person stands at a control panel and places a bag in position. A flip of a lever then mechanically sends the sand into a funnel and into the sandbag. While this has made sandbagging work substantially easier, the sandbags don’t load themselves into trucks, nor do they place themselves along the top of an overtopping levee. That work still remains to be done by human muscle, usually with a line of people hand-passing the heavy bags.
Having quite a bit of first-hand experience with these machines, a team of trainers from the Corps’ Louisville District was brought in to instruct trainees on the sandbagging machine.
One of the Louisville trainers, Maintenance Technician Robert Nicoson, estimates he’s made at least 200,000 sandbags. And he didn’t make them for practice, nor just for fun. He made them because they were needed for flood-fighting measures in Arkansas and Kentucky.
Nicoson pointed to a portion of the Bryte Yard Warehouse building. “During one flood event in Arkansas, we produced a pile of bags as big as that building,” he said. “And every one of them got used, too. Thank goodness we’ve got these machines.”
The sandbag machine can produce approximately 1,000 sandbags an hour with a well-trained team of operators. And while the team of trainers hope their latest students will never have to use the training they’ve received, they all know this – an emergency is not the time to be training them.