By Chelsea SmithJuly 28, 2016
ATLANTA, Ga. -- With fair skies all over the Southeast, inside an emergency operations center (EOC) Hurricane "Noree" pummels coastal and inland Georgia. She displaces more than 30,000 individuals and leaves the state's most-populated, economic hub crippled in the dark.
The simulated maelstrom inside the EOC reveals staff preparing temporary power solutions for critical facilities that are left without commercial power in the wake of her powerful punch.
Amid the flurry, Corps of Engineers Action Officer Ashley Luo and a state disaster response coordinator negotiate over a list of state-identified critical facilities -- a mounting log of infrastructures requiring assessments so generators can be installed.
Scanning her list of hospitals, shelters, wastewater facilities and other life-saving facilities competing for priority, Luo communicates mission capabilities to her state partner before abruptly arresting the exchange.
"How could I better explain this situation?" she pointedly directs to a nearby subject matter expert observing the exercise.
Luo, and other members of the planning and response teams (PRT), occasionally paused to reconcile solutions during an interagency Regional Power Mission Exercise (RPME) conducted July 19-21 at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Distribution Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
The newly implemented RPME preps Corps of Engineers PRTs to execute emergency support functions in a field training environment.
The team replicated a temporary emergency power deployment in response to a simulated natural disaster during a three-day training and exercise event. The RPME tested the unit's ability to execute temporary emergency power operations and shored up readiness before hurricane season intensifies, said David Peterson, chief of the Savannah District's Emergency Management Division.
Relying on a cadre of technical experts to execute its power missions, the PRT rehearsed with the 249th Prime Power Engineer Battalion and a host of other support agencies and contractors. Each plays critical roles in providing emergency power to affected communities.
The 249th EN BN formed pre-installation inspection teams to conduct nearly 100 assessments on critical facilities previously identified and prioritized by the state. Other mission participants coordinated the layout and operation of an incident support base (ISB), the movement of FEMA generators, logistics and coordination requirements and the management of ISB personnel. Programs such as ENGLink, the Emergency Power Facility Assessment Tool and other systems used to track equipment and staff actions sustained lines of communication among players during the simulated mission, said Peterson.
"We want them to work together as a single, seamless team with each person knowing the information and action they are responsible for providing," said Peterson. "They should feel they are better prepared to deploy on a power mission."
Ensuring preparedness means increasing training tempos for PRTs and partnering agencies. RPMEs trim expenses by setting smaller-scale exercises that can be conducted more frequently due to cost-savings benefits, he said.
The Corps maintains seven temporary emergency power PRTs nationwide. The new RPME model allows for three teams to train each year at a lower cost than the older exercise concept. This allows power team members to receive more opportunities to hone skills and acclimate to their roles and responsibilities, he said.
Peterson said he was enthusiastic because the interagency RPMEs also benefit individuals by establishing work relationships before a disaster.
"The worst time to exchange business cards is during the disaster," he said.
And in real-world disaster responses where "lifelines" aren't always available to reaffirm one's decisions, readying a resilient and versatile team minimizes uncertainty and boosts confidence when life-saving is the mission, he said.