Army engineers help emergency relief efforts in the Caribbean

| October 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

The Corps worked with other federal agencies to airlift temporary power generators to the ISB. The Corps is providing temporary power to schools, police and fire stations, medical facilities and other critical infrastructures throughout St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. (Photo by Rebecca Nappi, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Story and photos by
Rebecca Nappi
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
South Atlantic Division

ST CROIX — Among the split power lines, uprooted trees and scattered debris, a Federal Emergency Management Agency staging area sits in the heart of the island of St. Croix. Filled with materials and supplies, it awaits Army Corps of Engineers employees at the Incident Support Base on St. Croix, who will hustle to acquire and stage supplies for the disaster-struck Virgin Islands.

Incident Support Bases (ISB) are set up by FEMA for use in the event of a disaster. The ISB’s mission is to stage supplies such as water, meals, generators and other equipment in a zone near impacted areas. This allows emergency responders a space to stage supplies for distribution and implementation during an ongoing disaster relief operation.

As FEMA’s engineers and technical experts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers serves multiple missions throughout a disaster.

“The ISBs are a shared resource offered to USACE so that the temporary power and roofing missions requiring storage space for generators, cable, and roofing materials can be staged for use at critical public facilities,” said John Kulick U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Pacific Division regional logistics planner.

The Corps, tasked by FEMA, has brought the temporary power, temporary roofing, and commodities missions to life on St. Croix and has led the staging and implementation of these resources within the ISB.

Temporary power staging
The Corps’ Emergency Power Planning and Response Teams bring temporary power to critical infrastructures as determined by the territory. On the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Corps is providing temporary power to schools, police and fire stations, medical facilities and other critical infrastructures throughout St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John.

Emergency Power Planning and Response team members from the Corps’ Memphis District worked diligently to bring generator sets to these pre-determined critical structures on St. Croix. But bringing in hundreds of generator sets to a water-locked territory is not a simple mission.

The Corps deployed one of its three Mobile Communications Vehicles to the ISB to deliver communications capabilities. The Mobile Communications Vehicle provides a full spectrum of communications that includes radio, satellite and cellular capabilities that are not currently available within St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. (Photo by Rebecca Nappi, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

After Hurricane Maria, St. Croix’s port terminal for large shipments became blocked by submerged shipping containers that toppled into the water during the storm. Seeing the immediate shipping of generator sets for critical infrastructures as impossible, the Corps worked with other federal agencies to airlift the generators to the ISB.

These generator sets were then prepped for quick installation on the ISB so that the generators could then quickly move to its designated area to provide temporary power to critical infrastructures throughout St. Croix.
Commodities staging
Along with generator sets, the Corps provides logistical expertise to the combined commodities distributions that are centralized within the ISB. Commodities include water, diapers, meals ready to eat, canned food, tarps and other necessities. These commodities are staged by FEMA at the ISB for distribution throughout the islands.

The Corps’ logistical technicians provided assistance to FEMA and the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) in strategically planning the intake and distribution of supplies to areas by need.

“The Corps basically supports other agencies as needed, it’s what we do,” said Sid Jones, Corps of Engineers commodities management expert. “We came in and helped federal agencies with a common goal to distribute water and food to survivors.”

While distributing supplies may seem like a straight-forward undertaking, commodities management experts look at the resources available to residents in areas and determine additional need of specific resources in order to give where the need is greatest. For example, those without running water require much more bottled water.

Corps’ commodities management experts assisted FEMA and VITEMA in planning and preparing for the various needs residents across the Virgin Islands require post-hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Blue Roof staging
The Corps’ Blue Roof mission is a free service that provides 30-day temporary Blue Roofs to homeowners whose roofs were damaged during a disaster. The roof provides shelter until more permanent repairs can be made. This allows homes to be protected and families to remain in their homes while recovering from the storm.

In St. Croix, thousands of homes suffered roof damage from Hurricane Maria’s devastating winds, leaving many residents with little cover from the sky above. The Blue Roof mission takes blue, fiber-reinforced sheeting to create a temporary roof over any damages to protect the home and the homeowners.

Working to cover thousands of roofs takes thousands of rolls of fiber-reinforced sheeting, which need to be stored until installation.

Corps employees at the ISB track and sort this fiber-reinforced sheeting to properly and efficiently prepare for the installation of Blue Roofs.

Communications integration
In order for the Corps’ Power team, Blue Roof team and Commodities teams to work with federal and territory agencies outside the ISB, communication channels need to exist. But with cell service towers and power lines down throughout the island of St. Croix, this could be an issue. Fortunately, the Corps is providing communications to the ISB so that staging agencies have communications channels.

The Corps deployed one of its three Mobile Communications Vehicles to the ISB. The Mobile Communications Vehicle radio, satellite and cellular capabilities that are not currently available within St. Croix.

“The MCV supports the power team with internet connectivity and telephone service where power is interrupted and cell service in nonexistent or unreliable,” said Jason Moeller, Army Corps of Engineers Deployable Tactical Operations System Mission specialist.

This vehicle can provide communications for up to 24 continuous hours and allows for Corps employees working on the ISB to coordinate with other agencies and fellow Corps employees outside of the ISB.
Working together
The ISB is a visual display of how an array of missions from various federal and territorial agencies work together to strategically prepare materials and supplies in order to successfully accomplish these disaster missions.

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