While hurricane season is only from June 1st to November 30th, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spends all year preparing for it. To prepare for the season this year, the Charleston District’s emergency management division has been busy standing up its new mission; infrastructure assessment (IA).
The IA team’s primary function is to provide quick structural assessments to determine whether damaged buildings are safe for re-entry or should be restricted or prohibited. The secondary function is to evaluate structures that could be used in an emergency, such as hospitals for mass care or auditoriums for temporary housing. Finally, the team provides technical assistance such as electrical, mechanical, environmental and search and rescue support.
“After a storm has come through, all people want to do is get home and check on their house, to make sure everything is in order or to see what has been damaged,” said Gilbert Dent, emergency management chief. “We have to make sure that their homes are safe to re-enter and, if they aren’t, we need to be able to provide them with somewhere safe to go.”
To provide this service, the District had to ensure that there were volunteers who were properly trained. The emergency management division held three recruiting sessions and were able to recruit six primary responders and six backup team members. Once the responders were selected, they had to complete several online training exercises, two tabletop exercises and an eight-hour Applied Technology Council-20 training program. ATC-20 provides the in-depth training needed to do the assessments.
“It is vital that the responders are properly trained and prepared for this mission,” said Dent. “We have to be 100 percent sure that a home is safe to enter.”
There are four other districts dispersed throughout the nation that support the IA mission and the mission is rotated through those districts every year. The Charleston District will be the first to respond to an event within the South Atlantic Division and is currently fourth on the rotation of the national team.
Prior to the IA mission, the District supported the ice mission, but, in April 2007, FEMA announced it would no longer purchase, distribute or store ice as one of the basic initial response commodities. The decision to eliminate the ice mission was based on lessons learned from past hurricane response operations and reflects FEMAs transition that relies on its relationships at the state and local levels. The 2012 hurricane season was the last season that the District supported the ice mission.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supports FEMA’s emergency support function (ESF) #3, public works and engineering, by coordinating and organizing the capabilities and resources to deliver services, technical assistance, engineering expertise, construction management, and contracting and real estate services to prepare for, respond to or recover from a disaster.
No matter what the mission is, the District is always ready to respond.