In the span of a year, the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had 25 of their employees actively work on deployments to disaster relief missions across the U.S.
Kansas City District employees participated in four Emergency Support Function-3 missions—the Oregon wildfires, Tennessee high water event, Hurricane Henri and Hurricane Ida. Disaster relief missions that happen outside the Kansas City District and require additional help fall under ESF-3, which requires USACE’s support through volunteer deployments.
“We have [volunteer] electricians, office engineers, quality assurance representatives, resident engineers from [USACE districts] all over the country and they are on a team to help people,” Kansas City District Quality Assurance Representative and Hurricane Ida Blue Roof Team Member Bob Woodall said regarding his deployment to New Orleans, La.
According to Kansas City District Emergency Management Specialist and Deployment Coordinator Diana McCoy, volunteer deployments start with 30-day taskers.
“You have some people who go right away and do 30 days,” McCoy said. “Then you have people who stay out here as long as they can because they love what they are doing. Those people could stay out there for two to three months.”
When disaster strikes, some volunteers get deployed immediately.
“It depends [on the situation]. If you are in a position where you are needed immediately then you could be gone overnight,” McCoy said.
Kansas City District Program Manager for National Disasters and Debris Removal Subject Matter Specialist Rick Weixelbaum is in one of those positions. Weixelbaum deployed to Oregon to support a debris removal mission after wildfires burned for two months straight, ripping through over one million acres of land.
“The devastation was quite intense. Mobile home parks in the south that were completely destroyed—all you could see was ash, soil and the remnants [of] debris, concrete and brick. The further north we got, the worse the damage was along the highways. Trees along the side of the road that were burned or leaning over the road,” Weixelbaum said.
After five weeks in Oregon, Weixelbaum brought the mission home and continued his support for the next seven months.
“[We] felt comfortable enough leaving that debris removal mission with the people we had in place. We felt that we could manage it virtually on reach back because we had great communication, we had great people and we had the ability to maintain command control from a remote distance,” Weixelbaum said.
Clint Fartini, Kansas City District Construction Control Representative and Kansas City Debris Planning and Response Team member, is currently deployed to Louisiana in support of a debris mission after Hurricane Ida made landfall with devastating damages. He also spent time in Oregon supporting debris clean up after the wildfires and said that during both missions, the team’s work ethic was what pushed the mission forward.
“Essentially these guys [running debris trucks] are working from sunup until sundown every day,” Fartini said. “After a while this starts taking a toll on the trucks and they start breaking, but they find what they need to fix it and get right back on the road to continue the efforts of cleaning up.”
The partnerships the Corps shares with the Federal Emergency Management Agency also drive relief missions.
According to Weixelbaum, the partnerships between USACE and FEMA are essential because the Corps is FEMA’s “eyes and ears” on the ground.
“You can kind of look at it like we are FEMA’s contractor. So, when Uncle Sam says, ‘hey FEMA, I need you down here to clean up this debris,’ FEMA picks up the phone and calls the Corps,” Weixelbaum said. “So, the partnerships with FEMA—we have to have those.”
These partnerships help get USACE employees out across the nation to help people in need.
Woodall, who worked on roof assessments for the temporary roofing project in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida caused over 33,800 assistance requests, said that even though the relief effort takes time to complete, people effected by the natural disasters are just happy to receive aid.
“I haven’t heard anybody get grouchy at all [about having to wait]. They are all very understanding [and] there are a lot of people who say my damage is minimal, there is someone who needs help more than I do,” Woodall said.
According to Woodall, the support communities have shown one another is something he will never forget.
“It’s the community, like my neighbor may need more help than me… talk about being gracious and compassionate,” Woodall said. “It tears at your heart, it really does—to see the devastation and the love that these people feel for each other and what’s going on.”
Th Kansas City District is proud of their employees who step up to the plate when they are needed, volunteer their skills to help communities in dire situations and truly make a difference.
“We really rely on [volunteers]. If we didn’t have any volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to complete our mission assignment,” McCoy said.
The Oregon wildfire debris mission concluded on Sept. 30; Hurricane Henri’s relief mission concluded near the end of August. Hurricane Ida’s mission and the effort in Tennessee are still ongoing.