By Mr. Patrick Moes (USACE)October 26, 2017
KEY LARGO, Fla. -- Teamwork has taken on a special meaning for a group of employees from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Huntington District, currently deployed in support of Hurricane Irma recovery efforts in Florida.
The Huntington District's housing project recovery team, or PRT, received a call to support the recovery efforts following Hurricane Irma's landfall Sept. 10. The team departed Huntington, West Virginia, Sept. 27, and hasn't stopped since. After driving 16 hours before finding their new home in a hotel on U.S. Highway 1 in Key, Largo, Florida. The 6-person team's office is different from their normal conditions, but they said they've adapted.
Tara Linville, a Huntington District civil engineer, but deployed as a mission specialist, said her job in Florida is completely different from her day-to-day job at her district. Despite the changes, she said she welcomes the opportunity. "It's my chance to give back to a community in need," she said, "to use my education to help people."
Wanda Boothe, a Huntington District civil engineering technician, and also serving a mission specialist, echoed Linville's comments. "It's about making a difference in their life, regardless of the hours you work or the sacrifices you have to make to be here," she said. "When you see pictures of a homeowner's kids or grandkids thrown out in the front yard, you can't help but want to offer encouragement and hope to them."
Boothe, a U.S. Army veteran, added that it's the ability to make a difference that compelled her to volunteer to be a part of the Huntington District PRT. She said she felt being a part of the team was a lot like the military and it offered her the ability to work in a high-tempo environment. "The team offers a lot of the structure, but creates a lot of camaraderie and friendship," she added.
Brian Given, a Huntington District natural resources program manager and the mission manager for the 6-person team, added that he is always amazed at the bonding the PRT develops during a disaster mission. He said he can still remember the shared camaraderie of every teammate he deployed with following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
Regardless of the deployment location, Given said the team, with diverse backgrounds such as engineers, natural resources, and accountants, is always focused on taking care of the people. He said his team in Florida has completed site inspection reports in areas from Key West, Florida, to Key Largo and everywhere in between. The reports are used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to determine whether a location is feasible for the placement of a temporary housing unit. Once this determination is made, the homeowner, if eligible, would receive a temporary housing unit on the property, while the homeowner makes necessary repairs to their home. "The [temporary] housing mission comes in waves," he said. "You always need to be ready to adapt."
Adapting is exactly what the team has done. Linville said they learned from previous housing missions that you need a lot of equipment to effectively complete the housing mission. These missions often keep the PRT away from their homes for 30 to 60 days. She said the packing list for the extended mission includes everything from safety equipment, to clothing and tools, because you never know what you might run into. Boothe said it's better to have the equipment and not need it than to need it and not have it. Linville added that the mission is about being able to react to a changing environment. "A big part of these missions is being adaptable," she said. "It's an all-hands-on-deck approach."
That all-in approach is making a difference, according to Linville. "We get to give the homeowners some normalcy, to give them some hope because we're usually the first people that the homeowners see in this process," she added. She said that the team is really focused on doing what they can to help every homeowner they meet improve their situation and help them recover from the hurricane. Given said, it's really about helping a neighbor, and it's also about the adventure, being adaptable and staying mission focused. Linville added that to her, it's more than that. "We will do whatever we can to help them recover."
Ron Saunders, Huntington District accountant and quality assurance supervisor in Florida, concluded that the mission has been extremely humbling. "After everything they've been through, the people are just really kind-hearted and appreciative of what the team is doing."