Working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ geographic districts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Health and Human Services, the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, is focusing its skill and expertise in supporting our nation’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the urgency of this response was largely driven by the rapid spread of COVID-19.
The race against the virus is “an unbelievably complicated problem” that needs a simple solution, Semonite said.
Mobilized under the National Response Framework and Stafford Act, the Corps was given Mission Assignments from FEMA to execute planning for expanding hospital capacity, first in New York and then elsewhere if called upon.
As the Corps’ “go-to” organization for innovative solutions to our nation’s toughest challenges, Huntsville Center’s subject-matter experts and technical engineering professionals quickly developed plans and specifications for the rapid conversion of hotels, dorms, convention centers and large arena-type facilities into ICU-capable, or as they’ve come to be known alternate care facilities.
“Our mission was to come up with some conceptual site-adaptable designs, engineering and construction deliverables and artifacts that would help our districts and divisions execute faster when they get to these facilities,” explained Wade Doss, Engineering Directorate, Huntsville Center. “The idea is to help FEMA and the state and local governments get ahead of the hospital bed shortage.”
He added that his team of about 20-30 engineers and architects are working around-the-clock putting these concepts, sketches and designs together, and drafting equipment lists, schedules and performance work statements – all the things that engineers and constructors need to hit the ground running.
“Time is of the essence,” he said.
To develop these deliverables, Huntsville Center engineers remain mission-focused and are working closely with the Medical Facilities Mandatory Center of Expertise and Standardization (MX) in Alexandria, Virginia.
Doss adds that the Huntsville Center, like the rest of the Corps enterprise, is concerned with the health and safety of its workforce and is conducting most of this work virtually through Skype, teleconferences, WebEx and everything else.
“We’re working every day, seven-days-a-week,” he said. “This is all so that the districts and divisions scattered throughout the country have the deliverables they need to turn concepts into reality.
“Our goal was to get ahead of it and try to get these concepts laid out for hotels, dorms and arenas – facilities we thought could be good fits and that would already have a lot of the infrastructure,” he said. “But our main goal was to help the districts assessment teams.”
Doss explained how the Huntsville team developed facility assessment check lists that field engineers could take with them to determine whether those facilities identified by FEMA and state and local government could be converted into viable alternate care facilities.
“We try to draft our deliverables around several scenarios,” he said, “COVID-19 and non-COVID patients. We’re working with local health officials to make it site-adaptable. It all depends on the local officials: the mayor, the governor, local health officials wherever you’re at in the country to see what they need.”
Jelani Ingram, Huntsville Center acting branch chief of architecture, recognizes how the team’s efforts have influenced decisions and response planning at the highest levels of government. His team’s efforts in rapidly translating technical requirements and developed quickly by the MX into strategic communications documents are being used by the Corps of Engineers senior leadership.
He adds that the challenges are nothing compared to the impact Huntsville Center is having on the Corps enterprise and around the country.
“It’s great to be on the front lines and part of a mission that is working hand-in-hand with our medical professionals, supporting FEMA, HHS and our state and local partners to combat this disease and help save lives,” he said.