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Corps Districts primed for timely and effective disaster response

Since the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge into the Patapsco River near Baltimore on March 26, 2024, the nation has closely watched the response efforts involving local, state, and federal officials. Collaborating effectively, these entities swiftly developed and implemented a plan to recover missing individuals, stabilize the situation, and reopen the federal channel for ship traffic.

It is crucial to recognize that the processes guiding these officials have been established over many years. Whether responding to a hurricane, wildfire, tornado, or bridge collapse, the response to disasters follows a well-honed procedure that has been executed numerous times within the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), often as part of regular training exercises.

Several key components are integral to a district's emergency response:

Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs): Activation of district EOCs is a standard task trained across USACE multiple times per year. Each district maintains a full-time EOC staff, augmented by Department of the Army civilians as needed, to ensure continuous operations. EOCs serve as the nerve center for all activities. For instance, as the commander of the New Orleans District during Hurricane Isaac in 2012, I hosted a sitting US Senator overnight in our EOC to provide up-to-date information.

Military Officers and NCOs: Each district employs a few active-duty Army officers and NCOs who are highly valuable during emergency response situations. With experience in managing tactical operations centers during military operations, these officers and NCOs are adept at handling high-stress situations, making them invaluable assets in the EOC.

Local Government Liaisons (LGL): Districts rely on a dedicated group of volunteers, including engineers, construction managers, dredging and navigation specialists, etc., who, when an emergency is declared, transition from their regular duties to serve as LGLs. They operate from local government EOCs, acting as the crucial link between USACE and local authorities. They manage requests for debris removal, "blue roofs," and other forms of support, effectively bridging federal resources with local needs.

Public Affairs Specialists: USACE's work is highly technical, requiring clear communication with the public in a non-technical manner. For instance, during a critical decision-making moment for me in 2011 when the flow of the Mississippi River in New Orleans reached 1.25 million cubic feet per second, the public affairs team effectively communicated this by likening it to the passing of 1.25 million soccer balls, making the situation easily understandable to the general public.

While the timing and location of the next disaster are uncertain, one thing remains clear: US Army Corps of Engineer's districts will be trained, prepared, and staffed to respond on behalf of the federal government, meeting the needs of individual citizens when disaster strikes.

Colonel Edward R.  Fleming, USA Retired

Senior Advisor

A member of the Dawson team since 2022, Col. (Ret) Edward R. Fleming spent 25 years in the US Army Corps of Engineers and commanded of the Corps’ New Orleans and Charleston Districts.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.


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