NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 23, 2020) – The Corps of Engineers’ team supporting clean-up efforts in Middle Tennessee in the wake of deadly tornadoes that devastated the region in early March is wrapping up its FEMA technical support mission where contractors have removed an estimated 450,000 cubic yards of debris, enough to fill 137 Olympic-size swimming pools.
An EF-3 tornado packing 165 mph winds tracked through Nashville and Davidson County into Wilson County March 3, while a second EF-4 tornado severely impacted Putnam County. The tornadoes and severe storms caused 24 weather-related fatalities and damaged or destroyed five public schools along with numerous homes and businesses.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District’s Emergency Management received a FEMA mission assignment to provide debris technical assistance March 13, and a seven member response team began supporting the debris mission March 21.
Jerry Breznican, Nashville District Emergency Management chief, said the team consisting of subject matter experts from different Corps of Engineers districts and organizations had to have a special travel authorization to support the mission in Tennessee due to the COVID 19 outbreak.
“A mission essential travel waiver was granted to the debris team and they began deploying March 19,” Breznican said.
Robert Powers, lead debris subject matter expert and construction representative with the Baltimore District; Eric Haliburton, program analyst with the Mississippi Valley Division; Mark Cardwell, engineering technician with the Louisville District; Glenn Greiner, geodesist with the Mobile District; Herb Bullock, civil engineer with the Mobile District; Robert Burick, emergency management specialist with the Louisville District; Jeff Brooks hydrographic surveyor with the Louisville District; Bernie Bell, land surveyor with the Mobile District; and Chad Braun, civil engineer with the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center in Huntsville, Alabama; have been supporting the debris mission, with several members swapping out, for over a month now.
Powers said the team made contact with local municipalities, including the cities of Mt. Juliet, Lebanon and Cookeville, to provide information on technical requirements for debris operations, assessments to verify damage/debris increasing the efficiency of such operations, efficient monitoring techniques, documentation requirements, training or other support, he explained.
The COVID-19 pandemic created communication challenges between the Corps of Engineers, FEMA, applicants and contractors. The Corps of Engineers team worked a lot virtually from hotel rooms and with government offices being closed, it made it difficult to obtain information from local applicants.
“We had to avoid direct contact whenever possible, limited the amount of trips to public facilities, and followed federal, state and CDC guidance on social distancing policies recommended to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Powers said.
Team members did conduct site visits where debris removal missions were ongoing in communities hard hit by the tornadoes, experiences that are surreal for all involved.
“We all feel the need to assist those impacted when a disaster devastates a community,” Powers stressed. “If we can bring relief and assist people to get back into their homes and find a new normal in their lives it brings a tremendous amount of pride and joy to us as well. One day we may be in the same situation as these residents and will need assistance from others to get our lives back to normal.”
The team expects to wrap up its debris monitoring mission by early May 2020.
Powers noted that USACE has created a great working relationship with FEMA Region 4, and he is grateful for the tremendous support from ESF 3 Team Lead Patsy Fletch and Nashville District Emergency Management. The level of volunteer support to the community has been nothing short of amazing, he said.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)