The value of preparedness: US Army Corps of Engineers and Emergency Support Function #3

Adam Jachimowicz, Emergency Planner, Civil Emergency Management, US Army Corps of Engineers, Washington, D.C.
Joel Pliskin, Project Manager, Civil Emergency Management, US Army Corps of Engineers, San Francisco, California

The National Response Plan (NRP) establishes the Department of Defense (DOD)/US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as the Coordinator for Emergency Support Function #3 (ESF #3) Public Works and Engineering. DOD has designated USACE as "executive agent" for ESF #3. This means that all Mission Assignments and task orders come from FEMA directly to USACE.

USACE can also respond under our own authorities directly to the locals in flood-fight situations under our own Public Law 84-99 Authorities. For example, the Corps can provide sandbags, pumps, and technical assistance to communities threatened by flooding. We also have programs that can repair levees damaged by storms and floods or provide assistance to local authorities for doing the same.

As ESF #3 we are considered FEMA's Engineer. Our typical missions are:

  • Removal of Debris
  • Temporary Power Generation
  • Ice and Water Delivery
  • Installation of Temporary Roofs
  • Installation of Temporary Housing
  • Structural Safety Assessments
  • Technical Engineering and Construction Missions
  • Support to Urban Search and Rescue

2005 Hurricane Season Recap
The 2005 hurricane season has seen an unprecedented response effort from USACE and ESF #3. The following is a comparison between the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.

                                     2004 Hurricane Season      2005 Hurricane Season (to date, 15 November)
Total mission

assignment dollars ($)

received from FEMA            $1.1 billion                                            $4.3 billion

# of personnel

deployed                                  3,255                                                    3,700

# of states/territories

performing major missions            3                                                            5

Liters of water delivered       31 million                                                   99 million

Pounds of ice delivered        163 million                                                190 million

# of generators installed             583                                                          900

# of blue roofs installed           136,217                                                    135,000

Cubic yards of debris

removed                                1.5 million                                                   27 million

USACE assisted the FEMA housing mission by installing mobile homes and travel trailers on existing sites and creating new group sites. We also used several of our housing and other support teams to review work on FEMA's large housing contractors.

Some additional missions that were tasked to USACE:

  • Harbor dredging 
  • Assessment and repair of critical facilities such as hospitals and sewage treatment plants
  • Installation of temporary public facilities such as schools and government office buildings

In addition, USACE is charged under our own authorities to rehabilitate the flood control and hurricane shore protection system of the City of New Orleans and other areas on the Gulf Coast to pre-Katrina conditions.

A landfill in southern Mississippi showing a debris unloading operation where material is sorted. On the left is a "white goods" pile and on the right is vegetative and construction and demolition debris. The overall estimate for debris removal in Mississippi by USACE is 40 million cubic yards. (Photo: Mark Wingate)

The Corps spends a great deal of time and effort on preparedness and planning tools. The statement "train like you fight, and fight like you train" is one of the many mottos we use day to day. The following are some of the common tools and concepts that we utilize so that we are prepared to accomplish our mission:

Planning & Response Teams (PRTs): Pre-formed and trained teams that manage typical ESF #3 missions. PRT volunteers come from all USACE offices around the country and are deployable within six hours of notice of alert. We currently have 48 teams, and can rapidly create second- and third-tier teams used for 24-hour operations and extended deployments.

Advance Contracting Initiatives (ACI): Pre-awarded, competitively bid contracts for ice, water, debris removal, temporary roofing, and temporary power that allow for quick deployment of resources prior to and immediately after an event. This also allows us to train and plan with the contractors that we will respond with during a disaster.

ESF #3 Team Leader Cadre and Subject-Matter-Experts (SMEs): USACE maintains broad technical expertise in its normal civil works and military construction duties. Using this pool of resources, USACE has established several cadres of employees to fill key leadership and technical positions. These people receive additional training, have experience in emergency response and are prepared to quickly deploy anywhere in the country or the world on very short notice.

Pre-Scripted Mission Assignments (MAs): For all of our typical missions, the scope, dollar amount and details are worked out with FEMA beforehand. This allows us to begin executing a mission right after disaster strikes and plan for mission execution beforehand.

Several components of our Deployable Tactical Operations System Vehicles. They allow USACE to have instant communications and office space. They are brought into a disaster area, and are self-contained. (Photo: Doug Nestor)

ESF #3 Field Guides, Missions, Functional Guides: We maintain a library of information that can be used by ourselves and our local and federal partners. For example we have developed a Weapons of Mass Destruction Debris Removal Guide, which is partially being used in New Orleans today to remove certain hazardous debris on a large scale.

Deployable Tactical Operations System (DTOS): Response vehicles that provide a forward platform to support quick ramp-up of initial emergency response missions. The vehicles provide workspace and satellite and other communications such as telephone and Internet instantly.

ENGLink Interactive: Engineers Link Interactive (ENGLink) is the Corps Emergency Management Information System. ENGLink provides the framework for processing information and performing command and control of USACE elements responding to disasters and allows deployed personnel real-time access to critical information. ENGLink is a robust web-based three-tier architecture utilizing Oracle 9 Enterprise as the database engine; the Oracle Application Server for web hosting; and the users' web browser as the means of entry.

Remedial/Corrective Action Plan: The Corps Director of Civil Works, Major General Don Riley, has the familiar motto: "After Action Review Everything." This is something the Corps has adopted and integrated into its normal business process. During every event we capture lessons learned and integrate them into an after-action process that results in a plan to make changes for the next event. This plan is developed and executed among the different federal and state stakeholders.

Lessons Learned
Because of the scope of magnitude of the 2005 hurricane season response, several lessons were learned and principles validated:

  • Scenario/capabilities-based planning is an excellent way to determine and balance the number of teams and resources that are needed to both respond and keep in reserve should a disaster occur. This season pushed our reserve of responders to the max, and has given us good data in planning to respond to two concurrent as well as major disasters.

  • Flexibility is a key factor to any response. It is important to have a good plan and solid response structure before the disaster, but it is equally important to modify that to meet the mission requirements.

  • Reliable and constant communication is critical, and must be guaranteed when traditional means are not available.

  • Interagency/intergovernmental partnerships are key in the planning and execution phases.

  • Trust and relationship-building with the people you respond with and your customers is invaluable, and you can never spend enough time to do so.

And finally,

  • Expect the unexpected.

Adam Jachimowicz can be reached at (202) 761-0293 or; Joel Pliskin can be reached at (415) 977-8596 or