In 2017, more than 60 team members from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District deployed to support recovery efforts associated with three major hurricanes, the California wildfires, and Louisiana flooding. The hurricane season was one of the most destructive on record as Harvey, Irma, and Maria caused widespread devastation.
Many employees deployed to Puerto Rico where FEMA charged the Army Corps with providing temporary power and rebuilding power infrastructure. The Philadelphia District is playing an important role in the massive mission as the District set up an area office in the capital city of San Juan. Team members remain there to oversee and conduct quality assurance on a major power restoration contract.
Employees supported a variety of other missions including temporary roofing in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; temporary power technical assistance; and debris removal technical assistance in California associated with wildfires. In total, USACE executed $3.95 billion in FEMA mission assignments throughout the year.
Philadelphia District Commander LTC Kristen Dahle thanked team members for their flexibility and commitment to the mission.
“We were called upon to support a number of important missions and we answered that call and will continue to do so,” said Dahle. “I want to thank all of those who have deployed as well as those who have remained at the District and absorbed additional work to keep things running smoothly.”
Deployments actually carried over from the previous year as eight District team members deployed in early 2017 to support debris removal and temporary housing missions associated with 2016 flooding in Louisiana.
Eight months later, three major hurricanes occurred in the span of about a month. Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding and devastation in Texas in late August. It was the costliest disaster in the nation’s history according to some estimates. In mid-September, Hurricane Irma battered parts of Florida, St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other Caribbean islands. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria devastated a number of Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico and St. Croix.
In October, the District was tasked with setting up the San Juan Area Office in Puerto Rico. District leadership and the Emergency Management Office worked to staff the office with an initial team. Tom Lavender who serves as a Project Manager at the Dover Air Force Base Resident Office was asked to serve as Lead Engineer and continues to lead the office.
Steph D’Anna, a survey technician who works aboard the H.R. SPIES survey vessel, also deployed to Puerto Rico, but worked to produce maps and GIS products for South Atlantic Division leadership. She said logistics were challenging initially, but was grateful for the opportunity.
“It was great meeting so many people with different backgrounds,” said D’Anna. “I learned so much and had some incredible experiences like flying in an Osprey helicopter with Division leadership.”
Cassandra Bennett, an administrative assistant at Blue Marsh Lake, began her deployment a mere 70 miles from San Juan in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. She described the expected space and logistical challenges, but found the experiencing valuable from a professional and personal standpoint as she was thrust into a leadership role during her first deployment. After returning from St. Thomas, she deployed to Puerto Rico to support the San Juan Area Office.
Power restoration, temporary roofing, and debris removal assistance will continue in Puerto Rico in 2018.