Shelter is a basic human need that is crucial for survival. Providing shelter for victims after disasters helps to establish a sense of normalcy for the individuals and communities who have been affected.
Providing temporary housing involves a coordinated effort by various organizations to provide safe and secure accommodations for people who have been displaced.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received a $1.9 million Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignment Oct. 28 to provide conceptual design for temporary housing sites.
Once a design is approved, USACE will prepare the sites for FEMA to install the units. The units will house those displaced by the Aug. 8 wildfires that destroyed more than 2,000 properties on Maui.
Working alongside FEMA, USACE will prepare pads, provide plans, specifications, and construction management activities associated with the emergency temporary housing mission.
There are currently six temporary housing planning response teams throughout USACE district offices in Huntington, West Virginia; Los Angeles, California; New York, New York; Jacksonville, Florida; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Huntsville, Alabama.
Each team is comprised of a management and support element with the management element deploying in advance, and the support element following as the mission develops.
The 10-person team managing the mission on Maui is made up of USACE employees from both the St. Paul and Huntington districts. The team consists of engineers, surveyors and mission specialists.
USACE Temporary Housing Mission Manager, Jeff McCullick said, “Housing missions involve a myriad of moving pieces. Site assessments need to be done, then there’s zoning and utility needs.”
Temporary housing is a normal mission assignment for USACE. However, no two disasters are ever the same.
“The mission on Maui is unique in that USACE is not doing the installation of the units,” said McCullick. “We are preparing the pads with utilities so FEMA can procure and install the units.”
McCullick said the group is one week into the process but gaining momentum. “Although we are still in the initial stages, the team has hit the ground running and are working with FEMA to get people into homes as soon as possible,” he said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $53.7 million base contract Nov. 3, to Pono Aina Management, LLC, an 8(a) Native Hawaiian Organization, based out of Waianae, Hawai'i, to construct a temporary elementary school campus in Lahaina. The temporary school will accommodate those students displaced from the King Kamehameha III Elementary School that was damaged and rendered unusable by the Aug. 8 wildfires in Maui County.
As part of the USACE Critical Public Facilities mission assigned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support Hawai'i and the state Department of Education, USACE was tasked to design and oversee the installation of modular buildings for the temporary elementary school campus for the Lahaina community. The Galveston District will be responsible for contract management and project oversite.
"The children of Lahaina have gone through a heartbreaking trauma, and the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense and our partners can now help the state bring back a bit of normalcy to these young lives," said Col. Jess Curry, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Recovery Field Office commander. "This school may be temporary but will stand as a reminder that despite the grief and loss, Lahaina’s children will have a space to continue to learn, to dream and to thrive. We are proud to be here for them in this moment.”
For information on the Hawaii Wildfire Response or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visit https://www.poh.usace.army.mil/Missions/Emergency-Response/Hawaii-Wildfires/.
“Every time you go out on one of these missions, there are people who’ve just had one of the worst days of their lives, so getting out, being able to do whatever you can to help them put their lives back together and get back on their feet and back to normal is probably the biggest motivation.”
When Eddie LeBlanc, the current team leader for Emergency Support Function 3, Public Works and Engineering responding to the Hawai'i wildfires, reflects on what compels him to serve, he also reflects on a 25-year career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—one that has prepared him to take on the numerous responsibilities of leading an ESF3 mission team.
LeBlanc started out in construction, taking a student co-op role in the USACE New Orleans District’s Lafayette area office. His construction work eventually led him to Emergency Management, where he was introduced to deploying by becoming part of the Debris Planning and Response Team.
“My first deployment was in 2004, during Hurricane Isabel in Virginia,” he said. “From there I continued deploying for many years in various other positions on the PRT and then became a debris subject matter expert.”
All this experience with the debris team culminated in 2013 with LeBlanc becoming the debris program manager for USACE, then a decade later taking a position as a permanent ESF3 cadre member, one of only five such positions in the agency. The overall team leader and assistant team leader cadre has about 80 people.
He noted, “I think a big part [of being on the cadre] is just helping others. You see the fruits of your labor, helping people get back on their feet after they’ve had such a horrible experience. It’s always good to see the communities come back, especially coming from a state that gets a lot of hurricanes and disasters themselves. I know what it means to have others come in and help you and your family.”
LeBlanc arrived Sept. 4 in Hawai'i to lead the ESF3 response. As the second team leader to rotate in, he quickly began linking up with principal contacts at the State of Hawai'i, Maui County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other partners. Because an ESF3 response is funded through a FEMA mission assignment, it’s especially important to build strong relationships with FEMA leaders on the ground.
“They’re the ones who once we have deployment orders let us know who’s who and what’s expected for the disaster [response],” said LeBlanc.
Shortly after arriving, LeBlanc surveyed the damage of the impact areas on Maui in Kula and Lahaina. Though he had seen wildfires before, serving as the debris program manager and lead debris subject matter expert for the 2017 California wildfires—the first wildfire mission USACE had received—the differences in this event are clear.
“It’s some of the worst devastation I’ve seen in my numerous years deploying,” he said. “It’s definitely different than what I have seen in the past, especially knowing the cultural sensitivity on Maui and [logistical] challenges of it being an island and isolated really puts a lot more perspective on how to manage it.”
Recently USACE stood up a Recovery Field Office as a central location on Maui to help manage the recovery effort. The ESF3 team works in tandem with the RFO to ensure mission assignments are written and executed correctly and to coordinate between the RFO and FEMA for mission requirements.
“We’re doing that continued coordination on what the needs are from the RFO to execute the missions, making sure they have the funding and that we meet any other needs,” he said.
Another important aspect of being an ESF3 team leader is working with PRT action officers to ensure mission resourcing and overseeing the allocation of the mission assignment task orders that act as checks to fund various objectives.
“We’re the conduit that goes back and forth between FEMA and the state to those on the PRTs to coordinate timelines and funding to help keep them on track to complete the mission in a timely manner,” said LeBlanc.
This mission is the first where LeBlanc is the sole team leader. In his past recovery missions where he’s responded in this position, there were multiple team leaders, so this has offered a new learning environment and an opportunity to sharpen his skillset.
“You always learn lessons, and every mission you come away with something different, but coordinating at this level for the first time is a big eye opener and will help me further my confidence and expertise in the position going forward,” he said.
Disaster response also brings its own unique stressors and challenges. LeBlanc credits his family for helping him stay mentally fit to lead.
“I know there’s a strong network back home and having support from my wife and kids after doing this for 20-plus years helps me keep focus on the mission and what I’m doing for others,” he said. “The biggest thing I get out of every mission is the satisfaction of helping others in their time of need.”
When the sun sets below the Pacific Ocean, the workday is less than halfway complete for Jon Runnels and Kenny Kwan. The pair are quality assurance representatives deployed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Temporary Emergency Power Team on Maui.
“We’re providing quality assurance; we're also providing government presence on site, and we’ll go around while contractors are working, which is one of our requirements,” said Runnels, who was born and raised in Mississippi. “So, we also do spot checks, which is what the quality assurance part is. We're just making sure that everything is going fine, and that we don't have any generators that go down. So that's the main point of Temporary Power - keep the power going.”
Kwan, is a project manager and Runnels is a civil engineer. Both are assigned to the Honolulu District. Both live on O‘ahu, and both are engineers but they never met until Aug. 16 when they arrived in Maui as part of the federal emergency response to the Hawaii Wildfires.
“We work in the same district, but I've never met him,” said Kwan, who grew up in Honolulu. “But it's good. It brings people with common cause together, right. We're here volunteering for the same reason: we want to help people, and that’s one of the joys of the Power Team.”
In response to the Hawai‘i Wildfires, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deployed the Power Team under a Federal Emergency Management Agency Mission Assignment.
The team consists of USACE personnel trained to oversee operations of FEMA generators that provide power to critical facilities like municipal buildings, critical care facilities and water pump stations.
The Power Team installed the first generator Aug. 14, and it was at a water pump station.
“At this time of need we’re supplying generators at you know important places such as water wells and municipal buildings that need power to run. People need water everywhere, right so their access to water can continue.”
Working late into the night, the pair travel to generator sites, the day shift can’t get to before their shift is complete. These locations are often far from any town.
Some sites are so remote and devoid of light that Runnels and Kwan use the headlights of their vehicle and flashlights on their phones to complete the QA process but by working in the dark, the pair help keep the lights on and water flowing for first responders and those in need.