The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Motor Vessel (MV) PUGET ‘s mission is all about keeping other vessels safe.
The debris recovery vessel patrols Puget Sound inland waters, collecting debris and obstructions that may damage vessels. For their job, the crew of five uses an onboard crane, chainsaws, and other equipment for their dangerous job of snagging debris out of the frigid waters.
Not surprisingly, they must apply risk management practices, to ensure employees minimize risking injury, damage or harm as they execute tasks and serve the nation.
It is the district’s “Taking Care of People” approach that secured Seattle District’s PUGET crew the Army Risk Management Award. Director of Army Safety and U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center Commander Brig. Gen. Jonathan Byrom presented the crew with their award at the USACE-owned and operated Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Locks), Sept. 21.
“The fact that you had the wisdom to slow down and not cause an accident that would have caused significant loss of time and resources, must be recognized,” said Byrom. “If we can get soldiers across the entire Army to have this mindset, it would change our safety culture.”
Byrom said he intends to share the PUGET crew’s example of applying deliberate risk management practices across the Army.
USACE Northwestern Division Commander Brig. Gen. Geoff Van Epps attended the ceremony and shared the Army safety director’s views.
“The PUGET crew absolutely exemplified the right approach to safety,” said Van Epps. “The team was not only deliberate and methodical in their approach to risk management, but they respected and took the Army Corps’ mission seriously. We always advocate the right way to do things.”
For the crew, the award confirmed their obligation to keep safety at the forefront of everything they do.
“Safety is always our No. 1 priority in navigation and on the PUGET,” said Captain Stephen “Skipp” Green. “We encourage this mindset from the top down, and it’s how I believe we caught this issue. I always put my trust in what the crane operator’s decision for the lift is, whether it can or can’t be accomplished.”
Feb. 14, 2023, was like any other workday. The crew’s task, to use its mounted crane to lift two, 6-ton small lock floats from the small lock at the Locks, was part of their standard operations. In fact, the crew, part of the district’s Waterway Maintenance Unit (WMU), had completed this maneuver using the same equipment and configuration countless times before with no issues.
For Small Craft Operator Luis Hernandez, completing this critical lift for the first time on Valentine’s Day presented the ideal opportunity to focus on risk management.
“As the person sitting in the seat, the crane operator is ultimately responsible for pre-planning during all lifts including routine ones and making on-the-spot decisions during daily operations,” said Green. “They ensure the crew’s safety. The decisions they make are critical and always changing. Routine is what gets everyone in trouble. Attention to detail is key.”
Original load charts show the critical lift is under 75 percent of the crane's rated load. Concerned the new load charts might be more restrictive, Green, Hernandez, Crane Operator Jordan St. John, Section Marine Machinery Mechanic Joshua Deming, Small Craft Operator Silad On, and Locks Maintenance Lead John Ryan, reassessed the lift rather than assuming it was still safe.
With this approach, and after taking cursory measurements based on the tentative center location, they determined the lift might not be within specifications according to the new load charts. After Hernandez completed the critical lift plan, the team confirmed the lift may be at risk with the estimated radius and rigging.
“Luis ‘really went to town’ digging into all the resources available to him,” said Green. “He looked through the old load charts and noticed that while it was being performed safely and nothing had changed with the crane or on the vessel, they weren’t ‘within specs’ of our current load charts…That’s when the conversations started.”
They began collaborating with the Marine Design Center, the Corps of Engineers' center of expertise and experience in developing and applying innovative strategies and technologies for naval architecture and marine engineering. This led to the crew updating its load charts, fully aware that any updates could affect the crane’s lift.
By testing their theory in the real world on a previously successful routine task, and applying deliberate risk management principles, the crew reduced the risk of potential costly accidents and future catastrophes.
“The team made the unpopular decision to go against the norm and complete a task they’d routinely done, but in a more methodical and intentional way, to prevent a mishap,” said WMU Chief Bradford Schultz II. “Their course of action empowered the WMU to set a precedent of applying risk management techniques now, to avoid disasters later.”
The Army Safety Awards Program recognizes, promotes, and motivates success in accident prevention through risk management, by recognizing safety accomplishments of individuals and units in the field.
“Fostering a safety-conscious environment, that includes everyone being a part of that process, leads to an amazing team,” said Green. “The PUGET provides an invaluable service to the Army Corps, the American public and the Pacific Northwest.”
Nothing screams Team of Teams or Innovation louder than earning one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering and Construction Community of Practice’s (ECCoP) highest accolades.
The Northwestern Division Columbia River Climate Change Team received the ECCoP Climate Champion (Team) Award for their work on the Columbia River Treaty Vulnerability Assessment and contributions to district, regional, and national climate product development.
Integrating climate change into long-term planning studies has been a Northwestern Division, Seattle, Portland, and Walla Walla Districts, and their partners’ priority for over 15 years.
The team’s awarding-winning work includes supporting the Columbia River Treaty (CRT), currently in active negotiations with Canada on future basin water management.
The team incorporated modeling results, from the latest River Management Joint Operating Committee (RMJOC) planning studies, into their future climate vulnerability assessment of the Columbia River Reservoir System operations. The team also supported adaptive management planning to build resilience against hydroclimatic and future hydrologic Columbia River Basin change.
“The national recognition is an honor,” said Seattle District civil engineer and team lead Jane Harrell. “I hope exposure of this team’s work promotes and fosters innovation in how we plan and prepare for the effects of climate change.”
Harrell specializes in dataset and data analysis tool development to support climate change-impacted hydrology and resource assessments for the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle District’s Meteorologist Michael Warner provides atmospheric science and climate science support to studies involving the Columbia River Basin and the treaty. Warner, who holds a doctorate in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington, Seattle, gives real-time weather forecasting for the district’s water management and emergency management hydrologists.
A sustaining team element is its members’ diverse backgrounds – in engineering, atmospheric sciences, climate science, hydrology, and reservoir operations – that have led to unique opportunities to collaborate with federal agencies and various academic and research institutions to evaluate the effects of climate change in the Columbia River Basin.
“It's a privilege to work with this team and I feel honored to be part of it, said Jeremy Giovando, a research civil engineer with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center-Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (ERDC-CRREL).
Giovando, who has been a CRT/RMJOC climate change team member since 2009, applies his background in environmental and civil engineering into researching various civil works issues including climate change impacts on hydrology, post-wildfire hydrology, snowpack, and river ice mechanics.
“I think the award represents the power of a high-functioning team and has provided a template for how to directly include climate change impacts for USACE project,” said Giovando.
Another instance is collaborating with Bonneville Power Administration and the USBR, leading studies to develop an ensemble of historical and hydrological projections and to examine Columbia River Reservoir System’s climate change resiliency.
Kristian Mickelson, Seattle District’s Columbia River Treaty Hydrology & Hydraulics technical lead, has also been involved since 2009. “I felt really lucky back then being able to use data I helped develop at the University of Washington, and then apply it here at the Corps of Engineers,” said Mickelson.
“Through the years, this team continues to push the science forward to best prepare the region for understanding the impacts that will be caused from climate change.”
Additionally, partnering with the National Center for Atmospheric Research led to the team develop datasets using the latest modeling advancements, and climate knowledge to produce credible meteorological and hydrological conditions and responses of water resource systems.
The datasets enable the team to create a strong uncertainty depiction and risk to managing and planning water PNW region water resources.
“It feels good to be a part of meaningful and interesting work such as this.” said Portland District Water Resources Civil Engineer Keith Duffy, who works on river hydraulic modeling, rainfall runoff computing, reservoir and climate change assessment and data analyses projects. His climate change assessment planning studies date back to 2010.
The combination of diverse expertise, strong connections to the research community and long collaborative effort history makes conditions ideal for essential advancements in how USACE develops datasets and modeling tools toward relevant and reliable applications for decision-making frameworks and uses climate change information to support long-term planning for regional water management.
USACE’s Institute for Water Resources Hydrologic Engineering Center (IWR-HEC) Civil Engineer Evan Heisman, applauded his fellow awardees for continuing to push the boundaries of what can be done with projecting reservoir operations under climate change, and for their proactive approach in understanding how climate change impacts USACE’s mission managing flood risk, hydropower, ecosystems, navigation, and other reservoir system impacts across the Nation.
From developing decision-support tools to anticipate potential hydroclimatic change to planning for increased resilience for water resource infrastructure, the Climate Champion Team's efforts help advance understanding of and preparation for future climate change in the Pacific Northwest.
Every year in June, USACE’s Engineering and Construction Awards Program recognizes employees’ and teams' contributions of excellence in performance, leadership, professional development and community support in its engineering and construction career fields.
The ‘Team of Teams’ mindset is embedded into Seattle District’s strategic vision to deliver strong to the Pacific Northwest. Normalizing what currently seems revolutionary and shaping the USACE future through a culture of continual process improvement, modernization and innovation, are key elements in the district’s operational plan.
Repairs to the Quillayute Sea dike protecting the Quileute Tribe’s 800-year-old fishing village, will begin this fall.
The $5.7 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repair project will protect the La Push community within the Quileute Indian Tribe’s reservation land on the Olympic Peninsula’s northwest coast in Clallam County, Washington.
“The dike is also vital to support U.S. Coast Guard Station Quillayute River,” said Michael Suh, project manager, which performs search-and-rescue operations from the marina located on the reservation. The station’s area of responsibility covers 63 miles of Pacific Ocean coast and extends 50 nautical miles offshore.
The dike protects the Quillayute River Navigation Channel by reducing incoming wave transmissions. This protection is critical because damage from wave and/or current forces the dike has experienced over its lifetime has made it undersized and no longer able to provide the needed protection to the community.
Seattle-based Duwamish-Pacific Joint Venture should begin the project Sept. 1, 2023. The project will restore the dike structure to its authorized height 8 feet above mean lower low water within the approved in-water work window Sept. 1, 2023, through March 1, 2024.
This work window is also beneficial because wave and tide conditions are favorable.
The Quileute Tribe also relies heavily upon the marina for its ocean access.
The dike repair project also benefits commercial and recreational fishermen, and boaters.