District Holds Flood Fight Training as it Pours Outside

As atmospheric rivers drenched California once again, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco District held their annual Flood Fight Team training Feb. 5 to enhance their technical expertise in understanding USACE and state existing emergency and flood fight related policies and best practices.

Emergency Management Chief Holly Costa and Dam and Levee Safety Program Manager Cyrus Yaghobi taught the half-day training, which was attended by the San Francisco team in-person at the district’s headquarters and joined by the Sacramento District’s flood fight team virtually.

Costa started the annual training by introducing the public law that authorizes USACE to assist with flood fight activities, how local flood control sponsors can request assistance from the Corps for a flood-fighting mission and what the team members’ responsibilities are.

Most of the USACE emergency management program is funded under the Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies authorization, also known as PL 84-99. Public Law 84-99 authorizes the Corps to perform emergency operations, to include response operations and post flood activities, and to assist in flood damage mitigation efforts before, during and after a flood event.

“A flood fight team should show competency, flexibility and resiliency to support the nation’s flood risk management emergency needs,” Yaghobi said. “We use this training to enhance their understanding of the risk associated with levees and dams by studying failure modes, and learning means and methods of detecting and preventing issues that can lead to a levee breach during a flooding emergency period.”

Dam and Levee Safety Program Manager Cyrus Yaghobi teaches the half-day Flood Fight Training, which was attended by the San Francisco team in-person at the district’s headquarters and joined by the Sacramento District’s flood fight team virtually. USACE PHOTO BY TAMMY L. REED

“This is where the flood-fight team comes in to play,” Costa said. “The Corps may provide technical or direct assistance for pre-flood, flood fight, and post flood response. This assistance is to save human life and to protect improved property such as public facilities and residential development.”

She explained that direct flood fight operations result from a request of an appropriate state or tribal official and that the Corps’ direct assistance could include issuance of flood fighting supplies and equipment to non-Federal interests.

“An example of technical assistance is that we can provide experienced personnel at the disaster site to give guidance on flood fight techniques and emergency construction methods,” she said.  “We can also provide personnel to inspect existing flood protection projects and structurally threatened dams to identify problem areas and recommend corrective measures.”

On this note San Francisco District Civil Engineer David Demko asked for more information on what the flood fight team’s responsibilities were during an event.

“It depends on what is asked of us,” Costa answered. “We can be asked to just provide sandbags if the state is running low; Sacramento was asked to provide approximately 200,000 last year to California and Nevada. We could be asked for everything under our authority, or we could be asked for one thing, it depends on the event.”

Yaghobi followed Costa by focusing on the different technical aspects of levee failures and flood fighting materials to be used during their flood fighting efforts.

He dove deep into levee failures such as overtopping, which gives you limited options for flood fighting, and seepage and slope instability issues that they could face.

“It takes a lot of knowledge about the background design of the levee, a lot of local knowledge and information about how the levee performed during previous flood seasons to really understand how quickly a seepage issue, or how quickly a slope instability issue can lead to a levee failure and how to define flood fight priorities,” Yaghobi said. “So, you need to have a lot of data and information to know what kind of levee you are dealing with, and how quickly you have to act upon an issue you are seeing in the field.”

“Understanding what failure mechanisms you are dealing with, … combined with the knowledge of the system, can help you make the decisions on how to act, when to act and what kind of measures to take.”

Yaghobi continued through the course by giving safety tips on flood fighting, how to take notes and track information, and talking about the flood fighting material that is used for different levee or dam performance issues.

San Francisco District Hydraulic Engineer Joel Achenbach, received from the class a great overview of the authority under which the district might be called out to support a flood.

“There was some good information about how levees fail during floods and what mitigation measures are appropriate for different failure modes,” he said. “As a hydraulic engineer I understand watershed processes that contribute to flooding, and I understand the erosive patterns of fast-moving water in a river. This can help me predict how water may rise or fall over time and perceive what portions of a levee might be most vulnerable during a flood.”

Yaghobi stressed at the end of the first half of the training that flood fight team members are not alone during a flood event.

“When you are out there, communicate with the district, communicate with the non-federal sponsor, communicate with the Department of Water Resources representative, and get support wherever needed. You are the eyes and ears of the Corps out there in the field, and you want to communicate as much information back to the district as possible. Don’t feel that you are out there alone, pick up the phone and get advice.”