When the New York District responds to a federally-declared disaster, it’s usually to provide emergency assistance to communities such as rebuilding public facilities such as schools, and providing temporary shelter.
Recently, District personnel spent 10 weeks in Raleigh, N.C., completing a different mission by providing project management support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in organizing and executing the temporary housing application process placing residents displaced by Hurricane Matthew into manufactured housing units.
Matthew was the most costly hurricane since Sandy in 2012, nearly 3,000 families were displaced from their homes. In all, 45 counties in North Carolina were declared eligible for Individual Assistance (Assistance to Individuals and Households) under the Federal Disaster Declaration (DR4285).
The storm hugged the East Coast of the United States and left a trail of death and destruction from Florida to North Carolina before making landfall in McClanville, South Carolina. Matthew dumped record amounts of rain (6-20 inches) across large areas of Eastern North Carolina, creating catastrophic flooding of homes, businesses and infrastructure resulting in $4.8 billion in damage and 26 deaths in North Carolina alone.
Mr. Randall Hintz, Chief, Operations Support Branch, of the District’s Operations Division, said, “When we arrived, flood waters had receded and the weather was clear, but hardships continued for many whose homes were uninhabitable. FEMA was looking to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assist in organizing and managing the recovery effort.”
Project Management Team
Prior to deployment, Mr. Sean O’Donnell, Chief, Readiness Unit, of New York District’s Operations Division, who manages the District’s Emergency Operations Center, played a significant role ensuring the team had adequate resources to execute the mission.
O’Donnell recruited volunteers and formed a project management team: Mr. Randall Hintz, Action Officer, managed FEMA’s expectations and sharing that information with team members; Mr. Allen Roos, Mission Manager, integrated into the FEMA team and pinpointed critical aspects of the mission; and Mr. James Moore, Ms. Kelley Philbin and Mr. Peter Kuglslatter served as Mission Specialists supporting data analysis needs.
Mr. Jon Bannerman and Mr. Tony Carter from the Corps’ Wilmington District joined the team on the ground in Raleigh, North Carolina. The teams’ mission was to provide project management support to FEMA at the Joint Field Office to manage the tracking of objectives, scheduling, reporting and recording for the Temporary Housing Mission in North Carolina.
Temporary Housing Process
One of FEMA’s missions is tracking the temporary housing process through its Housing Operations Management Enterprise System. But this system doesn’t track interim milestones — permitting, site preparation, transportation, utilities and installation — that could identify problems. Enter the New York project management team. The team quickly learned which work elements should occur in what order and the personnel behind them. Volumes of information from FEMA were transformed into a series of readily-understandable single-page tracking sheets providing a snapshot of the entire housing application process which FEMA officials used to make swift, informed decisions.
Hintz noted strict requirements placing trailers on home sites in a flood zone, creating the need for a thorough evaluation. The Corps’ New York team provided mission-management capabilities, performing assessments, developing objectives and timelines, tracking resources, identifying other resources and permit requirements in five counties for potential temporary housing and/or critical public facility mission in North Carolina.
Manufactured Housing Units
Temporary housing in a FEMA manufactured housing unit consists of 1-3 bedroom units built in compliance with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standards and FEMA contract requirements. They’re placed at an applicant’s property if the property meets federal requirements.
Flood victims may occupy a unit up to 18 months after declaration of a disaster, but the application process is lengthy and complex: Before a manufactured housing unit can be placed, there must be a site inspection and preparation, purchase of a unit and transportation to site, installation, utilities, etc.
An additional constraint was a limited supply of units: manufactured housing units were also being used for flood victims in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, experiencing severe flooding prior to Matthew. Displaced residents were also accommodated in public schools, fire houses, local hotels, or by staying with relatives.
Mr. Allen Roos, Chief, New York District’s Environmental, Interagency and International Services Branch, Planning Division, noted “putting heads in beds” is not easy, given the involved qualification process. “We provided FEMA, our customer, with quality information,” said Roos, “this significantly improved efficiency processing temporary housing applications.”
Wilmington and Jacksonville Districts Contribute
The Corps’ Wilmington District based in North Carolina, executed nine missions supporting FEMA with nearly 170 staff assigned to temporary housing, project worksheets, temporary power and environmental and historical preservation, among others. Wilmington also held back some 90 billion gallons of water — enough to fill a football field 48 miles high with water — from two dams allowing extra time for conditions downstream to improve.
“We worked with our regional team of teams to fight the record-setting flood,” said Col. Kevin P. Landers, Sr., Wilmington’s District commander, adding, “The amount of coordination and collaboration with other federal and state agencies, our sister USACE Districts, and with local communities were incredibly important to the success of this flood fight.”
The Corps’ Jacksonville District, based in Florida, sent a Housing Planning and Response Team that conducted damage assessments and prepared cost estimates for 89 facilities in 25 counties. Engineers also estimated costs to repair impacted water and waste-water systems, and an archaeologist supported efforts with cultural resource and environmental compliance issues.
Serving the Nation
At the conclusion of the mission, New York transferred temporary housing operations to Wilmington District. At the time of the transfer significant progress was made by the team in assisting displaced households into more permanent housing alternatives. The mission was successful and the team developed standardized reporting templates to monitor the movement of the individual applicants who sought temporary housing assistance. These tracking tools will greatly assist FEMA in responding to future disaster events.
Collaboration with federal partners is one illustration of how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers serves the Nation and meets critical public needs.