More than 150 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel descended on Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia June 10-14 to participate in a national emergency response exercise. The exercise, which involved simulating response activities to a category 3 hurricane, was designed to prepare teams and individuals for real events.

"We hold exercises every year to ensure our people are ready and able to respond when we're called upon," said Paul Flamm, exercise coordinator and USACE rehired annuitant. "Every disaster is different, but this training enables responders to get more familiar with their missions, work with their colleagues and to practice."

USACE Planning and Response Teams that specialize in commodities distribution and emergency power generation participated in the 'Northeast Express' exercise along with partners from the 249th Prime Power Battalion, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Delaware Emergency Management Agency, and the city of Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management.

"The city of Philadelphia will benefit because we used the exercise as an opportunity to conduct facility power assessments and to train their staff on how to setup a commodities point of distribution," said Jim Monsu, chief of Emergency Management for the Philadelphia District. "Getting those accomplished helps improve readiness for real-life events."

The commodities teams specialize in distributing water following a disaster. They trained city and state emergency management personnel on how to set up a point of distribution. These locations are used by state and local governments to distribute necessities to citizens. Everything from choosing the right location to setting orderly traffic patterns can make a difference in efficiently getting commodities to people affected by a disaster.

"We measure our success by how quickly we go out of business and by that we mean getting commodities to the people who need them," said Trevor Lancaster, a Quality Assurance Supervisor for the commodities team.

The 249th Prime Power Battalion conducted power assessments at more than 300 critical facilities in Philadelphia and another 45 in Delaware during the exercise. The assessments are used to determine the specific power needs of facilities and are communicated to USACE teams who mobilize contractors to the sites with generators for installation.

For exercise participants, working through an entire disaster scenario and interacting with colleagues was a valuable experience.

"When our teams deploy, we're expected to hit the ground running," said Travis Fatzinger, who serves as a Mission Manager for the Philadelphia District Emergency Power Team. "Working through the whole process in this environment helps us prepare for that. We also had the opportunity to interact with Emergency Power teams from multiple districts and learn from them."

Every year, USACE sends people to respond to disasters around the world. In 2012, more than 3300 USACE employees deployed in response to one or more of 15 major disasters. During and after Hurricane Sandy, USACE had approximately 3000 employees within the North Atlantic Division, with an additional 990 team members deployed from other USACE divisions across the country, engaged to support the response mission.

Coordinators based all of the exercise scenarios on Hurricane Sandy and other past events.