After Hurricane Sandy barreled up the Atlantic coast in October 2012, the damage to homes and communities was devastating. It also wreaked havoc on regional infrastructure, including sewage treatment systems in New Jersey, prompting action from a specialized U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) team designed to address just such underwater emergencies.
From Japan and South Korea, to dams and levees in the United States, the Forward Response Technical Dive Team has added a new dimension to USACE’s maintenance and emergency operations since its creation in 2012. Whether inspecting the integrity of infrastructure, checking on unexploded bombs from World War II, or determining the need for dam repair and improvements, the team is making a difference at key sites in the United States, providing diving, remote operating vehicle missions, and dive safety coordination.
Led by Steve England of the Philadelphia District, the USACE Forward Response Technical Dive Team (FRTDT) quickly sprang into action at the Sayreville Pump Station, which processes pump waste from 30 towns across central New Jersey. Within days, the team created a plan to install a new gate and bulkhead at the facility to prevent wastewater from escaping into a nearby river. As part of a federal, state, and local task force, USACE oversaw completion of the task that provided safety oversight for a dive team working in contaminated water with limited visibility.
“This was a very challenging mission because of all the federal, state, and local players involved,” said England, one of the FRTDT’s professional engineers. “However, we got this very ‘messy’ job completed as needed, safely and without incident.”
Much like its other projects, the dive safety team approached the emergency with a commitment to clearly designed objectives with highly trained staff and clear policies and procedures.
“Diving is a high hazard activity,” said Rick Benoit, program manager of the FRTDT. “The more capable the team, the safer the work environment is.”
From Japan and South Korea, to dams and levees in the United States, the FRTDT has added a new dimension to USACE’s maintenance and emergency operations since its creation in 2012. Whether inspecting the integrity of infrastructure, checking on unexploded bombs from World War II, or determining the need for dam repair and improvements, the team is making a difference at key sites in the United States, providing diving, remote operating vehicle missions, and dive safety coordination.
Goals of the Team
Approximately 15 specially trained USACE divers are part of the FRTDT. The team is led by Benoit, who also is the dive director for USACE’s Portland and Walla Walla districts. Portland District serves as the USACE de facto center of expertise for diving, offering help to other USACE locations. Benoit and his deputy, Todd Manny, are the only two divers in USACE whose job is entirely related to diving and its related planning and activities. By comparison, all of the other divers have other USACE jobs and only dive on an as-needed basis.
“We use assets from throughout the Corps,” Benoit said, and so far there is plenty of work. During the team’s first season in 2012, divers worked on projects in four countries, three continents, eight cities, and two islands, inspecting seawalls, piers, docking facilities, and sea bottoms.
In recent months, USACE divers have gone to the Naha Port in Okinawa to check on unexploded bombs that have lain dormant since World War II; conducted a sonar survey of a pier in South Korea; and inspected water temperature control towers and locks in the United States. During 2011 flooding in the Midwest, divers inspected the bottom of towers and inspected locks and dams to assess damage. Other recent projects included inspections of flood control and irrigation structures in Texas and underwater bridge inspections in the Pacific Northwest.
For these projects, divers may plunge into 40-degree water to check a crack along a dam, bridge, or tower. “It’s a very unique job,” Benoit said. “We make sure things are working the way they’re supposed to.” For each project, the dive team develops an emergency plan to evacuate a struggling diver, and a standby diver is always available.
“We use pictures, video, and observations,” he said. “We make recommendations from the conditions as we see them.”