Empowering Hope: Inside the Mission of the Corps of Engineers Temporary Emergency Power Team

When natural disasters strike, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, deploys its temporary Emergency Power Planning and Response Team to provide electricity and hope to communities in distress.

One of seven Emergency PRTs operated nationwide by the Corps, the team is equipped with the capability to deploy and provide a spectrum of support. The team’s services range from technical expertise to the seamless “turnkey” installation of emergency generators at critical public facilities, such as hospitals, fire departments, police stations, and critical care facilities such as nursing homes, shelters, and wastewater facilities.

Throughout the past two years, the Savannah District Emergency PRT has responded to crises in various locations, including Puerto Rico, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and most recently, Saipan during the aftermath of Typhoon Bolaven.

Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, Emergency Power Planning and Response team, including Leland Tenijenhuis, electrician, and Master Sgt. Shermaine Malone, contract specialist, collaborate with the 249th Engineer Battalion and the contractor to evaluate a site for the possible placement of a generator during a mission in Saipan. USACE COURTESY PHOTO

“It is important, not only within the Savannah District, but also as one of the USACE missions, to be able to provide this critical asset to any state or territory when asked,” said Master Sgt. Shermaine Malone, who served as a contract specialist for the Saipan mission on the District’s Emergency PRT.  “This enables us to be a vital source of support and help them reestablish power to essential facilities.”

While this was Malone’s first mission with the Savannah District, he’s spent most of his military career working in acquisitions supporting exercises and missions in different countries. For this mission, his primary responsibility was providing contractor oversight and keeping accountability of contracted equipment while assisting the mission manager, as the subject matter expert on the contract.

“For me, it was an awesome experience because I was able to see how the team functions as a whole, and I was able to work closely with the contractor,” said Shermaine.

Shermaine said although the storm took a different route, the team was able to assist the people of Saipan in a different way.

“We conducted extensive assessments to equip them for potential future crises,” said Malone. “Collectively, this will make all of us more prepared and will provide everyone with a better understanding of the essential resources that will be needed. By the time we touch down, we will have gained a comprehensive understanding of the specific support requirements in various local areas.”

Collaboration and Coordination

Malone worked closely with Laura Salas who served as the team’s mission manager- the supervisory position responsible for the total execution of the mission. A member of the Emergency PRT since 2018, Salas said she finds deep satisfaction and a unique camaraderie in being part of the team. For her, it’s not just a job; it’s a meaningful way to contribute to the well-being of affected communities and forge connections with new people who share a common purpose.

“The PRT gives me an opportunity to perform at my best, and I can develop skills I may not have the chance to develop at my ordinary day job. I also get to meet people from all over that I wouldn’t normally meet,” said Salas. “I have made friends from throughout the Corps, and we all lean on each other for support.”

Personnel from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, Emergency Power Planning and Response Team, are shown with the contractor and the local point of contact during a mission in Saipan. The team is one of seven Emergency PRTs operated nationwide by the Corps, equipped with the capability to deploy, and provide a spectrum of support. USACE COURTESY PHOTO

Salas said one of the best parts of participating in missions is meeting the people of the communities they serve.
“When we go into the neighborhoods and the schools to check the generators, the families are very thankful, and all the kids are excited to see us. It is a nice feeling knowing we are helping them out,” said Salas.

The Emergency PRT works closely with the 249 th Engineer Battalion, who accompanies them on every mission.

“The 249th provides the technical expertise and conducts assessments and we coordinate all of the activities for the mission,” said Salas.

The Temporary Emergency Power PRTs also partner with key entities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Energy, and local and state authorities. This collaborative network extends to contractors, forming a united front against the challenges presented by disasters.

Salas said by working together with these agencies, the Emergency PRTs ensure a holistic and coordinated response to emergencies, leaving no stone unturned in their mission to restore the states or territories to normalcy.

Volunteer Opportunities

Emergency Management Specialist Tatjana Tessneer, who has overseen the Power Team for years, dispelled a prevailing misconception about the team’s requirements. Tessneer said contrary to popular belief, Power Team members do not need an engineering background or specific knowledge of electricity.

“There are numerous diverse positions within the team, offering a wide array of opportunities,” said Tessneer. “You don’t need to be an engineer to contribute effectively.”

Each 12-person team typically comprises roles as a power mission commander, action officer, mission manager, mission specialist, logistics specialist, mission liaison officer, mission liaison, quality assurance supervisor and quality assurance personnel.

Malone urges individuals to consider volunteering for the team, emphasizing the wealth of possibilities it presents.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to step outside your normal work environment,” said Malone. “Both personally and professionally, it’s an enriching experience that I believe will foster growth in so many ways.”

Those interested in joining the Emergency Power Team should reach out to the Emergency Management Division.