As the nation endures the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is supporting FEMA, in coordination with other federal, state and local partners and playing a key role in the ongoing nationwide response efforts.
USACE – known to engineer solutions for the nation’s toughest challenges – is constructing temporary alternate care facilities across the country to alleviate the burden on hospitals.
USACE districts provide planning, assessment, design and construction missions in response to state requests for alternate care facilities. As of April 21, the Corps had completed more than 1,115 site assessments and awarded 32 contracts for construction of alternate care facilities, which will provide more than 15,800 hospital beds across 50 states and territories.
“In war and in peace, USACE is ready to assist our nation,” said Louisville District Commander Col. Antoinette Gant. “It’s an honor for us to work shoulder to shoulder with our local, state and federal partners as we fight this battle together.”
In Louisville, the district’s Emergency Operations Center activated March 26, sending more than 30 district personnel from New York to Chicago to support construction efforts. Meanwhile, the district’s COVID-19 response team prepared for the mission here at home.
Under the direction of FEMA, and at the request of the states, two site assessment teams evaluated 11 facilities throughout Indiana, Kentucky and southwest Ohio to determine the sites’ potential for possible conversion into alternate care facilities, if needed. Six additional site assessments were conducted at the request of the Department of the Army at nearby military installations.
Site assessments determine if medical requirements are met, including how many patients can fit into spaces and the proximity to nearby hospitals; utility requirements such as electrical, lighting, water, air filtration capacities; safety features for emergency response and egress; staging of ambulances; and parking availability.
“Essentially our mission here is to look at the space and develop the conceptual plan of how we would lay it out, including where we would put beds, where we would put nurses stations, etc.,” said John Bock, chief, Engineering Division, during a site assessment at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., March 30. “Then we provide that plan to the state of how the site could look if this facility is needed.”
Engineers spent hours assessing facilities. They then reconvened to summarize their findings at the McAlpine Training Center, where they could work as a team while practicing safe social distancing.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how our site assessment team members responded when called upon,” Bock said. “They got the call at 9 p.m. on a Friday night and were at the first facility the next morning to do an assessment. Working long hours under ever-evolving requirements was a challenge, but these folks went above and beyond to deliver outstanding plans for the states of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. We talk about the Army Values all the time; Selfless Service, Personal Courage, Loyalty, Honor, etc; but this group of individuals lived it and showed what it means to be leaders in our organization.”
Once assessments are completed, the district provides the reports to the states to help with their decision making. States can then request continued assistance from USACE or execute the alternate care facility construction mission on their own based on their projected needs and their state’s best interests.
For example, the district’s plans were used for the layout at the Kentucky Exposition Center, where the Kentucky National Guard recently setup more than 250 beds for patients recovering from COVID-19.
“In our area of responsibility, the states were able to do the build out of facilities by either mobilizing National Guard resources or having the work managed by other entities, such as their local health care collaborative,” said George Minges, Louisville District Emergency Operations manager. “They were able to create the low-acuity, smaller scale facilities that they felt were needed.”
Three district liaisons, Tim Fudge, Jay VanHoose and Ryan Martin, worked in the emergency operations centers of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana alongside local, state and federal partners to ensure full coordination throughout the process.
“The liaisons are the eyes and ears of the district at the state-level emergency operations center,” Minges said. “They help explain what assistance we can provide and ensure the states receive federal support as expeditiously as possible,” Minges said.
The district’s contracting team played another key role in the pandemic response, providing regional contracting support throughout the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division.
Together the team conducted three source selection boards, creating two pools of contractors within the region and one pool for the state of Illinois to support Chicago District’s alternate care facilities. The team also awarded two A/E task orders to assist with site assessments within the Louisville District.
Louisville’s contracting team awarded five Alternate Care Facility contracts for sites at McCormick Place Convention Center, Metro South Hospital, Sherman Hospital and Westlake Hospital, all in the Chicago area, as well as the Milwaukee State Fair Grounds in Wisconsin.
“I’m so incredibly proud of the contracting team, those who are working the FEMA mission and those who are working hard to continue delivering the Louisville District program,” said Misty Bock, deputy chief, Contracting Division, Louisville District. “Our contracting and counsel FEMA team worked countless hours to quickly let contracts and commence construction for the completion of alternate care facilities ahead of the anticipated peaks. We worked so expeditiously that we were sought out by the enterprise to provide guidance and lessons learned to assist districts across the nation. It has been my honor to work with such a tremendous group of dedicated and hard-working professionals for an unprecedented event.”
Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic response, critical work at the Louisville District never stops. The district continues to perform all critical missions regarding flood risk management, navigation, civil works, emergency management, construction of medical facilities and environmental regulatory functions.
“Our Louisville District workforce continues to demonstrate their resiliency as they respond to this crisis while simultaneously working to keep our locks and dams, lake projects and our FY20 construction program moving forward,” Gant said. “The majority of our employees have transitioned to telework to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, yet even in these challenging times, they remain relentless in their efforts to deliver our critical projects for the nation.”