(Oct. 4, 2017)—Seven employees from the Chicago District have joined hundreds of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) personnel from around the world to provide hurricane recovery support in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
When disasters occur, Corps teams and other resources are mobilized from across the country to assist local districts and offices to deliver its response missions. On Sept. 16, the Corps was tasked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to execute the $100 million Blue Roof mission headed by the Nashville District.
Vanessa Villarreal, public affairs specialist, works in the Operation Blue Roof Call Center housed inside a Corps Recovery Field Office (RFO) in Tampa, Fla.
The Call Center responds to those calling 1-888-ROOF-BLU, a program offered by FEMA and managed by USACE that provides temporary blue plastic covering to damaged roofs until arrangements can be made for permanent repairs. The center is taking calls from residents of Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Call center operators interact with an average of 265 callers a day.
On Sept. 24, the RFO, headed by the Jacksonville District, became fully operational with administrative support teams that included Army Corps of Engineers-Information Technology (ACE-IT), Human Resources, Internal Review, and Public Affairs. Within 10 days, Corps staff increased from 30 to 300.
The first blue roof was installed on Sept. 16 in Naples, Fla. As of Oct. 3, 11723 rights of entry (ROEs) have been collected, 9393 assessments have been made, and 1611 blue roofs have been installed.
The ROE form, a legal requirement that allows Corps workers to access properties and assess damages to homes, is filled out at a designated ROE center in each county. Then it’s given to a quality assurance (QA) assessor who then goes to each home. The mission is broken down into three zones: north, central, and south. QA teams are grouped by county and each team has up to 15 QAs with one team lead.
There are currently 237 Corps QA assessors. Six district employees are working QA: Mike Machalek, Bart Nuckols, Ryan Moore, Andrew Farver, Mike Cirillo, and Nihad Halilovic.
Mike Machalek, biologist with the Regulatory Branch, works QA in the south zone of Miami-Dade County. With a clipboard, cell phone, and tape measure in hand, his job is to fill out a temporary roofing assessment and work order for each home. Right now, he’s averaging 10 homes during his 12-hour day. And he serves as a team lead.
QAs act as inspectors who travel out to properties all day and assess roof damage, draw up sketches of proposed fixes, then estimate the quantities of required tarp, 2x4s, plywood, and tape. The process used to be entirely by paper. Now, work is done via iPhones and an app which allows QAs to do their assessment and transmit all the required data electronically. Once assessments are done and sent on to the Dispatch Center in Tampa, the assessments make their way to the Corps' contractors who then do the actual installation.
“When I did this mission 14 years ago, it was all pen and paper,” he said. “Technology didn’t exist back then. Everything now is electronic. We do the assessments, put in the numbers, take a photo of the form, and the completed ROEs disappear and we get new ones added to our list. It’s all mapped out on the phone so it tells you how to get to each location. Nice and simple.”
Bart Nuckols, engineering technician, said this mission is personal.
“I volunteered because of Irma hitting close to home with all of my wife's family in Puerto Rico,” he said. “I also felt a need to help out down south after living through a few hurricanes and tropical storms in Louisiana while employed with the Corps in New Orleans.”
Ryan Moore, construction representative, works in the north region. He said he’s visited about 55 homeowners since his Sept. 23 start.
“Once I arrive at the property, I assess the home’s roof for damage and determine what needs to be done by the contractor who will later install the temporary roof,” he said.
Andrew Farver, office engineer within the Construction Section, started out last week in the central region and on the Lee County (i.e. Ft. Myers) team. He worked on his own for three days and then was promoted to QA team lead. Aside from the occasional team meeting every few days, he said QAs are very much on their own just knocking out as many assessments as they can in a 12-hour day.
As a lead, he said he’s still very much a QA and goes out to do assessments when he can – just with the added responsibility of answering, or elevating upward, any questions or issues his QAs may have. He also organizes occasional team meetings for mission updates, gets new QAs out into the field to shadow more experienced QAs, and reports to his region supervisor.
“The fact that we have the opportunity to help the public is amazing,” Farver said. “Some days can be long, hot, and stressful. But we get the opportunity to see new parts of the country and interact with people with interesting backgrounds and stories. I take a lot of pride in being the face of the Corps, and in a larger part the government, to these people.”
Mike Cirillo, engineer technician, collects ROEs and said he’s the first face people see when they go for help.
“It's my home state and I wanted to help,” he said. Plus, my family is still here. Growing up in Florida, I've been through a few hurricanes and understand the devastation to lives that is left in its wake. A smiling face and some reassurance that help is on the way goes a long way when dealing with something like this.”
Nihad Halilovic, office engineer in the Construction Section, is a QA in the central region.
“The reason I volunteered was to help those in need after they've been struck by a natural disaster,” he said. “This way I feel like I am contributing and helping directly to our fellow citizens.”