Defense Media Network

Army Corps Responds, Supports National Response to Hurricane Florence

BY CHRISTOPHER AUGSBURGER, Baltimore District

“We’re all in.” Those were the words Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general and 54th chief of engineers, spoke moments before Hurricane Florence made landfall on Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, just east of Wilmington, as a category 1 hurricane with 140 miles per hour wind speeds, Sept. 14, 2018. 

“The Army is ready to jump in and respond,” he said. What meteorologists called the wettest hurricane on record in the Carolinas, Hurricane Florence brought extreme flooding throughout the South Atlantic region. It overtopped dams, inundated hundreds of miles of stream and rivers and cut off power to hundreds of thousands of residents. In addition, it damaged roads, railways and closed ports in North Carolina and South Carolina, totaling billions of dollars in damage and taking at least 44 lives.

The Deployable Tactical Operations System (DTOS) is a coordination of both teams and equipment put together to provide critical communications in the event of significant man-made or natural disasters. The Emergency Command and Control Vehicles are deployed in two-man teams, the units are self- contained with a workspace for up to 11 users simultaneously.

The Deployable Tactical Operations System (DTOS) is coordination of both teams and equipment put together to provide critical communications in the event of significant man-made or natural disasters. The Emergency Command and Control Vehicles are deployed in two-man teams, the units are self- contained with a workspace for up to 11 users simultaneously.

Even before Florence made landfall, hydrologic engineers and flood risk management experts in Washington and Atlanta partnered with teams on the ground and immediately began monitoring conditions. This included hundreds of miles of levees and 33 dams throughout the region. Officials also kept a close watch on the 6,000 miles of navigation channels and 29 ports within the South Atlantic Division. Experts from across the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) were placed on standby, trying to anticipate the needs of the public in order to provide rapid flood fighting assistance. 

Jason Whittaker, Savannah District structural engineer, checks the sea floor for scouring near a wharf in North Carolina, while Wayne Boeck, Omaha District structural engineer, takes notes as part of an inspection of the installation’s infrastructure in support of recovery efforts after Hurricane Florence.

In addition to the federally-owned projects, special dam assessment teams also hit the ground to inspect more than 80 privately owned dams in the Carolinas and Georgia. They also assessed dams inside Fort Bragg and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; and Fort Gordon, Georgia. This technical assistance provides these installation commanders and local community leaders, actionable technical support – addressing boils, effects of overtopping – and helped warn communities downstream of dams at risk for failure. 

USACE’s temporary emergency power team, working alongside FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, sent Soldiers from the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), to work with local partners in Robeson County, North Carolina, to assess a downed generator at the Fairmont Wastewater Treatment Facility. The facility is currently land-locked with the nearby Lumber River flooding the area due to the storm, including the section of Highway 74 that provides access. Corps and county officials were airlifted onto the temporary island by our federal partners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

USACE’s temporary emergency power team, working alongside FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, sent Soldiers from the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), to work with local partners in Robeson County, North Carolina, to assess a downed generator at the Fairmont Wastewater Treatment Facility. The facility is currently land-locked with the nearby Lumber River flooding the area due to the storm, including the section of Highway 74 that provides access. Corps and county officials were airlifted onto the temporary island by our federal partners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

EVERY MINUTE OF WARNING MATTERS. 

Serving as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) engineers, at the height of the response more than 300 USACE employees from around the country deployed to these areas to help support and oversee emergency support functions. This included deploying 

  • 125,000 sandbags; 
  • 11,580 super sandbags; 
  • 29,000 linear feet of rapidly deployable flood fighting structures commonly referred to as HESCO bastions; 
  • 30,000 feet of polyethylene sheeting; and 

USACE’s temporary emergency power team, working alongside FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, sent Soldiers from the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), to work with local partners in Robeson County, North Carolina, to assess a downed generator at the Fairmont Wastewater Treatment Facility. The facility is currently land-locked with the nearby Lumber River flooding the area due to the storm, including the section of Highway 74 that provides access. Corps and county officials were airlifted onto the temporary island by our federal partners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

USACE’s temporary emergency power team, working alongside FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, sent Soldiers from the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), to work with local partners in Robeson County, North Carolina, to assess a downed generator at the Fairmont Wastewater Treatment Facility. The facility is currently land-locked with the nearby Lumber River flooding the area due to the storm, including the section of Highway 74 that provides access. Corps and county officials were airlifted onto the temporary island by our federal partners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

  • performing critical geographic information systems missions, and providing important expertise to local and state emergency management agencies. USACE also dispatched seven deployable tactical operation system vehicles to provide on-the-ground command and control at specific areas. 

Power teams along with soldiers with the 249th Engineering Battalion (Prime Power) installed seven generators to help power military installations and critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure includes facilities such as shelters, hospitals, and wastewater treatment facilitates needed to help the region recover from the disaster. 

“Preparations for this response began long before Florence became a named hurricane” said Charles “Ray” Alexander, USACE Director of Contingency Operations. “Annually, the Corps trains and equips all supporting TEAM members, military and civilian, to prepare them for deploying in the face of a civil disaster. This includes recurring collaboration with our federal, state, and local partners to ensure a coordinated effort in both response and recovery operations,” said Alexander. 

As streets flooded, USACE’s Geographic Information System experts quickly developed an online “Trafficability Inundation Mapping Tool” to provide the public with information on what regions are affected by the flood waters from Hurricane Florence. 

These rapidly updated maps indicate the severity of flood waters and their impact on vehicle movement in the affected areas. The maps showed the Catawba, Pee Dee, Cape Fear, Lumber, Neuse, Tar, Yakin, and Roanoke water basins along with other areas. 

While the response was swift in the south, Florence transitioned to a tropical storm and made its way up towards the Northeast, bringing the near-record water level to projects in the North Atlantic Division. 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach re-nourishment operations underway along Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, following Hurricane Florence, Sept. 22, 2018. These operations are designed to help rehabilitate shorelines to mitigate the risk of storm-related damage to coastal communities and infrastructure. This project is part of rehabilitation efforts from previous hurricanes but was put on hold due to Florence. Work resumed when the dredging craft moved to safe harbor during the storm and returned to continue operations. 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach re-nourishment operations underway along Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, following Hurricane Florence, Sept. 22, 2018. These operations are designed to help rehabilitate shorelines to mitigate the risk of storm-related damage to coastal communities and infrastructure. This project is part of rehabilitation efforts from previous hurricanes but was put on hold due to Florence. Work resumed when the dredging craft moved to safe harbor during the storm and returned to continue operations.

For example, at Sayers Lake, which sits on the western branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, this dam experienced its highest water levels since 1972. 

As the remnants of Hurricane Florence shifted out to the Atlantic, dam and levee safety experts provided 24-hour monitoring of the region’s 54 dams, more than 650 miles of levees, and 22 storm and hurricane barriers to ensure they function as designed. They also worked with local municipalities to provide flood fighting measures, such as sandbags and engineering expertise, while also keeping an eye on the region’s ports and bridges. 

The recovery of this storm is expected to take time. As USACE’s response transitions to the recovery phase, and as conditions allow, workers have begun early assessments of impacts on key areas such as coastline projects. 

Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, deputy commanding general for Civil and Emergency Operations (center), discusses the emergency response plan for South Carolina following Hurricane Florence, with Keith Skinner, emergency management specialist. 

Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, deputy commanding general for Civil and Emergency Operations (center), discusses the emergency response plan for South Carolina following Hurricane Florence, with Keith Skinner, emergency management specialist.

“Every cubic yard of sand we’re able to put on the coastline means protection for somebody,” said Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, the commander of USACE’s South Atlantic Division. 

Crews from the Charleston District began to measure the sand lost and how much new sand is needed to return these projects to their original profile. 

“Well, it’s important to really accurately reflect what erosion occurred because of the storm. Because the funding is in support of storm recovery we have to be as accurate as possible and that means getting out there as soon as possible,” said Holland. 

In addition to these long-term recovery efforts, USACE will continue to respond to the needs of the community on behalf of FEMA and the overall federal effort. 

“I am honored to be leading such a dedicated team of professionals committed to making a positive difference in the lives of the most vulnerable,” said Semonite. 

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