The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $52.5 million contract Oct. 16 for Hazardous Site Assessments for Household Material and Bulk Asbestos Removal in Lahaina and Kula/Olinda to Dawson Solutions, LLC, a Native Hawaiian Organization 8(a) contractor. The performance period for this Phase 2 private property debris removal contract is three months.
USACE is managing the removal of the debris on Maui as part of the federal government’s unified national response following the wildfires that ravaged the towns of Lahaina, Kula/Olinda Aug. 8. The wildfires damaged or destroyed more than 2,000 Maui properties, requiring a coordinated fire debris removal cleanup.
Debris removal missions assigned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency include the removal of debris from private property. The cleanup process includes two phases. Phase 1 is currently underway and involves the removal of hazardous materials by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Phase 2 involves the removal of other fire-related debris by USACE. During Phase 2, fire-damaged debris will only be removed from a property if property and business owners grant permission via a completed right-of-entry form.
The County of Maui will identify and oversee priorities during the fire cleanup while working in partnership with the state and federal agencies supporting the community with this process. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District awarded a contract for cultural monitoring Oct. 16 to help prevent further harm to items of cultural and historical significance while also honoring the unique cultural heritage of Hawai‘i. Cultural observers will be onsite for all stages of Phase 2 operations.
“Having cultural observers in place prior to the commencement of Phase 2 debris removal is key to ensuring USACE personnel and contractors can perform their work for the people of Maui with confidence that items of cultural significance are going to be protected,” said Col. Jess Curry, Recovery Field Office commander.
For information on the Hawai‘i wildfire response or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, visit https://www.poh.usace.army.mil/Missions/Emergency-Response/Hawaii-Wildfires/.
September is National Preparedness month, which is intended to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies across the country. Although the month of September is dedicated to this important observance, at the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Debris Planning and Response Team stands ready every day in case disaster strikes.
When a disaster occurs, whether natural or manmade, and the state in which it occurred is not equipped to handle the response and cleanup afterwards, the governor may declare a State of Emergency, which is needed prior to a request for federal assistance. The president then may declare a federal disaster, which allows for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to access federal funding for the cleanup. FEMA contracts with USACE Planning and Response Teams to execute the cleanup mission after a disaster.
“The Debris Planning and Response Team is … a district-sourced team of individuals that goes forward when municipalities request assistance with debris removal … during natural disasters,” said Rick Weixelbaum, national emergency preparedness program manager and natural disaster program manager at the Kansas City District. “When a state requests federal assistance, that’s when the President picks up the phone and calls FEMA. USACE is basically FEMA’s contractor.”
Within USACE, there are seven different planning and response team types that are part of FEMA’s federal response plan. These include critical public facilities, debris management, emergency power, infrastructure assessment, safety and occupational health, temporary housing and temporary roofing.
Across the USACE enterprise, there are multiple planning and response teams within each type. Currently, there are seven Debris Planning and Response Teams within USACE dedicated to debris management, the newest of which is located at the Kansas City District.
“In addition to the Kansas City Debris Planning and Response Team, USACE has six additional Debris Planning and Response Teams strategically disbursed throughout the enterprise in Mobile, Alabama, Sacramento, California, Fort Worth, Texas, Louisville, Kentucky, Vicksburg, Mississippi and Baltimore, Maryland,” said Weixelbaum.
Formed in June 2021, the district’s Debris Planning and Response Team can deploy to a disaster area in the continental U.S. within hours, should they be called to do so. On a deployment, the team is responsible for the project management and technical monitoring of debris removal.
“We are 14 [people] deep on the primary team and then I’ve probably got about that many on the alternate team,” said Weixelbaum. “On any given mission, I’ll source from both the primary and the alternate team to have one full team. We are ready, willing and able to deploy wherever we are called at a moment’s notice.”
While no USACE planning and response team is any more important than another, debris removal is perhaps the most visible in the aftermath of a disaster.
“To see what the task looks like when you get there and then when you leave, the before and after is just amazing,” said Weixelbaum. “Just looking at the physical nature of what debris removal does to the landscape … it’s very visible.”
More than just removing debris
For Weixelbaum, disaster and emergency preparedness are part of his everyday duties at USACE. But for the other members of the Kansas City District’s Debris Planning and Response Team, volunteering for the team provides opportunities they might not normally encounter at their day jobs with USACE.
Jim Workman, a section chief in the Kansas City District’s military branch, has been part of the district’s Debris Planning and Response Team since it was formed in 2021. But Workman has deployed with other USACE planning and response teams to various natural disasters for several years. He has deployed in response to wildfires, floods and hurricanes. His most memorable deployment was as part of a temporary power team, which responded to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017.
“One of the most rewarding [deployments] was Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico,” said Workman. “These people had been without power for months and you turn the power on and crank up the music and … it’s a party. They were really celebrating. So that was a really rewarding deployment.”
Although the atmosphere in Puerto Rico had the feeling of a party after power was restored, Workman emphasized the long days and hard work that are required when deployed as part of a planning and response team. For those who might be interested in volunteering for the district’s Debris Planning and Response Team Workman suggests they give it a shot.
“Don’t be afraid. It’s a great opportunity. Try it, if it’s not for you, that’s fine,” said Workman. “Rick [Weixelbaum] and everyone else involved, we are team people so we will help you along and make sure you are successful.”
According to Workman, there are many benefits of being part of the district’s Debris Planning and Response Team. He enjoys the opportunity to travel to different places across the country, work on projects that are outside of his day-to-day duties and meet people from all over USACE. But his favorite thing about being part of the Debris Planning and Response Team is the satisfaction that comes from helping others in times of need.
“It’s the satisfaction that you get from helping the people that have been devastated,” said Workman. “Just getting the citizens back to their day-to-day life that has been taken away from them, that is a great sense of accomplishment.”
Like Workman, Weixelbaum acknowledges the many benefits and unique opportunities that being part of the district’s Debris Planning and Response Team provides to its members. But like Workman, Weixelbaum’s favorite thing about the team is having the chance to help people during times of disaster and emergency.
“The mission is very rewarding if you have the personality that wants to help others recover to get them back to pre-incident way of life. The Debris Planning and Response Team is out there … with the survivors of these incidents, so there is a lot of return on investment for folks if that’s what they like to do,” said Weixelbaum. “Who doesn’t want to help people?”
In response to the Aug. 8 Hawai’i Wildfires, a fuel team from the 25th Infantry Division stepped in to fill a critical need for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' temporary power mission on Maui.
At the request of the Corps, the 25th ID, located on Oahu, provided a team of soldiers and two Heavy Expandable Mobile Tactical Trucks to fuel temporary generators which are providing support to water wells and other critical public facilities in Lāhainā since the wildfires began.
“The fueler is offloading between 300 to 600 gallons of diesel fuel daily,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Maksym Zymin, Temporary Power Team Commander “They’re an additional asset that provides redundancy and efficiency for the contractor’s fueling operations.
When combined with the skills of soldiers who are operating and maintaining them, they are a “response multiplier” for the USACE temporary power team.
The fuel trucks can hold and transport up to 2,500 gallons of fuel. Zymin said that deploying the fuel trucks closer to the deployed generators has reduced refuel runs by 40 miles and reduced risk.
“As safety is one of the primary considerations of the mission, driving fewer miles minimize the risk of an accident and potential fuel spill,” Zymin said.
Donald Schlack, temporary power team subject matter expert from the USACE Honolulu District, said the generators keep critical infrastructure operating, enabling water and power companies to work on repairs.
“While we’re providing power to critical infrastructure and municipal buildings with the generators, it’s one less thing the electric and water companies must think about while they’re dealing with the recovery,” said Schlack. “It lets them focus on restoring electricity and water for the larger population.”
The soldiers operating and maintaining the fuel trucks come from all over the world and are comprised of petroleum supply specialists, wheeled vehicle mechanics and chemical refueler repairers.
Sgt. 1st Class Lanilua Pine is leading the unit as they do their part to support recovery efforts.
Pine said she feels a close connection with the people of Hawai'i. On the way to retrieve the fuel trucks each day, they pass through areas directly affected by the wildfires.
“This really hits home,” said Pine. “It’s personal. It’s family. We can make a difference in how we help people, and we want to help.”
While more than 50,000 fans and alumni gathered at Mississippi State University’s Davis Wade Stadium to cheer the Bulldogs for their college football season opener against Southeastern Louisiana State University, Sept. 2, two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District employees who are Mississippi State alumni were cheering them on in spirit while supporting emergency response efforts to the recent Hawai'i wildfires.
Brittany Keyes, a mission specialist with the Honolulu District Power Planning and Response Team, is from Laurel, Mississippi, and a 2013 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at Mississippi State. Jon Runnels, a quality assurance specialist and logistician, is from Pass Christian, Mississippi, and is a 2015 graduate of the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State. Runnels works as a project engineer for the Honolulu District Construction Branch.
USACE’s Power Planning and Response Teams oversee the installation, maintenance and overall management of Federal Emergency Management Agency generators that provide temporary emergency power to critical infrastructure, critical care facilities and municipal buildings for Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignments.
Keyes is responsible for personnel accountability, documenting the team’s mission-related actions and contractor performance. When she is not participating in emergency response missions, Keyes serves as a management and program analyst at the Honolulu District. She joined the Power PRT to share a piece of the kindness she said she has experienced at her alma mater.
“Many times, I’ve witnessed Mississippi State University pull together for their students, their faculty and their community in times of crisis and despair because ‘Bulldog Nation’ is family,” said Keyes. “Likewise, the USACE Honolulu District Power Team is honored to show up for our Maui ‘Ohana in a time of crisis. Of all the skills MSU has equipped me with, a heart of compassion and kindness is of the utmost importance, and that is what I proudly display throughout this mission.”
Runnels has served in multiple positions on previous emergency responses. During the USACE response to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017 and 2018, he served as a quality assurance specialist, a quality assurance lead, and office engineer.
In his full-time job at Honolulu District, Runnels is a project engineer in the district’s Construction Branch. On Maui, Runnels has been a QA on the swing shift, checking generators to ensure they were properly maintained, and is now tracking generators to ensure accountability.
“Being able to help others in a time of need, I don’t see a higher calling than that. To rise to that calling, there’s just nothing more important,” said Runnels “It’s not uncommon to stop and help people in Mississippi when you see someone broken down on the side of the road. It’s just something Mississippians do. It’s the right thing to do.”
The FEMA-assigned Typhoon Mawar debris removal mission on the island of Guam managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers advanced into a new phase today with the beginning of debris hauling operations.
USACE awarded contracts earlier this month to disaster recovery contractors ECC and PFM for debris removal and they’ve used the ensuing days to solidify cleanup crews and move equipment into place.
“Today we are at site 11, the Tiyan debris site, and are starting to receive the first truckloads of vegetation coming from the village of Hagat,” said USACE Debris Mission Manager Todd Turner from the Sacramento District. “We have a tower set up where they are determining the cubic yardage within the trucks that are coming in and then we have the laydown for the trucks after the cubic yardage has been determined.”
There is also separation of white goods going on and then eventually the removal of the construction and demolition material from the site.
Michael Curtis with the Los Angeles District is a Quality Assurance Specialist on-site at Tiyan monitoring the operations for the typhoon debris recovery mission.
“The trucks are placing the vegetation on site to be processed on site through the woodchipper and the contractor is separating out the white goods and will be draining the freon from those white goods and then processing them,” said Curtis. “White goods are refrigerators, large appliances, anything that has insulation and freon in it. The white goods will later be smashed with the bucket of a front loader, driven over, and then packaged for recycling.”
Soon, debris separation and removal will begin at public schools ahead of the new school year. Schools, with the help of the Guam National Guard, sorted their eligible Mawar-related debris and set it in the right-of-way (ROW) within 10-feet of the curbside. The USACE contractor teams will make one pass per debris stream (vegetation, construction and demolition material, and white goods) per school ROW. After the school ROWs are complete, residential debris removal will begin.
This program is a part of the combined Federal, state, and local Typhoon Mawar recovery response.